As ten­ants leave Crys­tal Av­enue high rise, se­cu­rity will be in­creased

Crime, squat­ters among con­cerns as build­ings con­tinue to empty out

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

New Lon­don — With res­i­dents steadily mov­ing out of the trou­bled Thames River Apart­ments, the New Lon­don Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has turned some of its at­ten­tion to the se­cu­rity of the build­ings and their re­main­ing res­i­dents.

There has been lit­tle in the way of se­cu­rity at the Crys­tal Av­enue high rises his­tor­i­cally — there are no lock­ing doors at the en­trances to the three high rises, and a po­lice sub­sta­tion re­mains un­manned. With fewer peo­ple around, the con­cern has fo­cused on the pos­si­bil­ity of in­creased crime and squat­ters.

City po­lice have in­creased pa­trols in the area as the num­ber of fam­i­lies in the 124-unit out­dated low-in­come com­plex dwin­dles, though more costly se­cu­rity mea­sures are on hold un­til there is an iden­ti­fied need.

New Lon­don Hous­ing Au­thor­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Kol­isha Fiore said this week that 77 of the 114 fam­i­lies have moved out and more con­tinue to leave ev­ery week. All of the fam­i­lies were is­sued hous­ing choice, or Sec­tion 8, vouch­ers as part of the hous­ing au­thor­ity’s dis­po­si­tion of the fed­er­ally sub­si­dized prop­erty.

The goal is to have the en­tire com­plex va­cated by the end of June, at which time the hous­ing au­thor­ity

ex­pects to sell the prop­erty to the city. New Haven-based Glen­dower Group, hired by the hous­ing au­thor­ity, is work­ing with the res­i­dents to find homes and move.

Betsy Gib­son, chair­woman of the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, said she ex­pects that one by one the build­ings will be closed and se­cured.

“As the build­ings empty we have to make sure the safety of the res­i­dents and se­cu­rity of the build­ings is main­tained,” Gib­son said. “We’re not in a po­si­tion now to start mov­ing res­i­dents from build­ing to build­ing. That time will even­tu­ally come.”

Gib­son ex­pects that once the num­ber of fam­i­lies in one build­ing reaches a cer­tain thresh­old — that num­ber is un­de­ter­mined — they will be moved and con­sol­i­dated into an­other build­ing.

Po­lice Chief Peter Re­ichard sug­gested as much dur­ing a meet­ing with the board at the end of Fe­bru­ary fol­low­ing a stab­bing in the park­ing lot and the fa­tal drug over­dose of a home­less man in one of the stair­wells at the com­plex.

Re­ichard’s sug­ges­tion was to seal off floors as they are emp­tied and close build­ings to al­low them to be sealed off com­pletely. He also sug­gested get­ting rid of aban­doned cars in the park­ing lot, some­thing that Gib­son said is al­ready un­der­way.

He sug­gested en­sur­ing all out­side lights are work­ing and per­haps in­creas­ing their in­ten­sity. Gib­son said that se­cu­rity cam­eras on the site are an added crime deter­rent.

Mean­while, a Su­pe­rior Court judge in­volved in a 2014 stip­u­lated judg­ment is mon­i­tor­ing the progress of the move, at the be­hest of New Lon­don at­tor­ney Robert Rear­don. It was Rear­don’s pro bono work fight­ing the hous­ing au­thor­ity for more than a decade on be­half of Thames River res­i­dents that ul­ti­mately led to a court-stip­u­lated judg­ment that ended the class-ac­tion law­suit and man­dated new hous­ing for the ten­ants of Thames River by Novem­ber 2017.

When it be­came clear dead­lines would not be met, Rear­don re­opened the case and has been hold­ing monthly sta­tus meet­ings with the Judge David M. Sheri­dan, the orig­i­nal judge in the case, along with hous­ing au­thor­ity and city of­fi­cials.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from both the Con­necti­cut Fair Hous­ing Cen­ter and Con­necti­cut Le­gal Ser­vices have re­mained on site to mon­i­tor the progress and en­sure res­i­dents are not be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against.

Fion­nu­ala Darby-Hud­gens, Com­mu­nity Ed­u­ca­tion & Out­reach at The Con­necti­cut Fair Hous­ing Cen­ter, had ex­pressed con­cern last month about no­tices to va­cate that were poised to be is­sued to re­main­ing res­i­dents.

The 90-day no­tices might have been a cause for angst, but thanks to a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort with Con­necti­cut Le­gal Ser­vices and the hous­ing au­thor­ity, now run by Imag­i­neers, ex­plana­tory let­ters were in­cluded with the no­tices.

Con­necti­cut Fair Hous­ing is also pro­vid­ing re­main­ing res­i­dents with help to fill out ex­ten­sion re­quests for the Sec­tion 8 vouch­ers. They have hosted three dif­fer­ent fo­rums with Con­necti­cut Le­gal Ser­vices and plan an­other from 5 to 7 p.m. April 23 at Thames River Apart­ments to help res­i­dents fill out the sec­ond ex­ten­sion.

Vouch­ers, the first batch is­sued on Dec. 28, ex­pire af­ter 90 days with­out an ex­ten­sion re­quest. Res­i­dents can ap­ply for two ex­ten­sions if they are hav­ing trou­ble find­ing a place to live.

“Con­necti­cut Fair Hous­ing will con­tinue to do out­reach to en­sure every­one has found safe and af­ford­able hous­ing,” Darby-Hud­gens said.

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