MERIDEN — Andrea Atkins has managed the Meriden Inn at 1102 E. Main St. for more than a decade.
And she has worked for the hotel’s owners for far longer — throughout the past three decades. The past three years have been the most challenging for the business, which serves both short-term and long-term guests.
Atkins this week explained that when the statewide moratorium on evictions was enacted in 2020, as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business she oversees took a direct hit.
Staying at the hotel were a combination of people who were suddenly unemployed and who needed assistance paying their bills, including for shelter. Then there were other occupants who continued to be employed, but simply did not pay their rents and occupancy fees, Atkins explained.
“There wasn’t really much I could do about that. It was very tough for a long time,” Atkins said, adding that as the hotel’s manager, she needed to pick which bills to pay.
“I had to keep the lights on. I had to pay my staff. We had to take care of the rooms the best we could,” she said.
The business lost money during that time. And funds the business did have needed to be used to refurbish rooms that were damaged during some tenants’ stays. Atkins estimated the business’ losses over the past two-plus years totaled $315,000. Those losses included declines in rent and occupancy revenue, more than $193,000, as well as costs to repair rooms that had been damaged by tenants.
The hotel serves a clientele base who bring with them a variety of financial needs, Atkins explained. They include elderly residents who face exorbitant medical debts.
The hotel was directly impacted by the pandemic, and the subsequent statewide eviction moratorium. The hotel has received some funding, through the state’s UniteCT rental assistance program, and through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
The Meriden Inn seeks new funding to help it fund vital repairs. The business has a pending application to the city to use a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the costs to replace the hotel’s roof and to acquire a new generator. That request includes $62,218 for the roof replacement and $5,251 to acquire a new generator. The total the hotel sought was close to $67,471.
Atkins noted the hotel could not evict guests and tenants for any reason. “We couldn’t evict non-payers. We couldn’t evict troublemakers. We couldn’t evict drug users. We couldn’t evict gang members,” she told members of Meriden’s American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee members on Monday. “Imagine going to work every day for two years fearing for your life — because that’s what my staff had to do.”
Atkins explained that she reached out to state officials on behalf of her business, asking that extensions on the eviction be halted. Those requests were made to no avail.
“We had to basically start all over from 2010. Rooms were being demolished. We had no money. Only this time, I wasn’t allowed to ask anybody to leave,” Atkins said.
The business put in applications to state programs, including UniteCT, which state officials enacted to provide up to $15,000 in assistance to renters who meet income eligibility requirements. That funding was provided through the U.S. Treasury and administered by the state Department of Housing.
Atkins explained her business submitted numerous applications through the UniteCT program to recoup some of the rent income the hotel lost.
“Unfortunately, the application took a long time to process,” Atkins said. The individual applications only covered 12 months’ worth of rent. And they had taken longer than that period of time to process.
“So we just kept losing money,” Atkins said.
The applications themselves also required the signatures of both landlords and tenants. Getting tenants to sign off on that assistance proved difficult, Atkins explained.
It wasn’t until the business got in touch with former state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie that it was able to recoup some of the funding that had been lost.
“I’m not quite sure what we would’ve been able to do without her staff’s assistance,” Atkins said.
The ARPA Steering Committee reviewed the hotel’s request this week, opting to bump up the total amount sought to an even $70,000.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who sits on the committee, proposed increasing funding to allow the business to build a protective enclosure for its new generator.
Atkins told committee members that the hotel’s previous generator was damaged when a motor vehicle struck it. The building’s roof leaks in areas. Operators are not able to rent out impacted rooms. Atkins’ office in the building also leaks at times.
A crew of seven staff members, overseen by Atkins, runs the hotel, which consists of 65 rooms.
Atkins explained that prior to the pandemic, the hotel, which previously was an Econo Lodge, underwent a series of steady improvements, including renovations of its lobby and all the rooms on its first floor.
“We were able to make the Meriden Inn better. I knew it would never be the Taj Mahal, and I didn’t expect it to be. But I did want it to be a nice safe environment for the people who are staying there. Business was getting better,” Atkins said. “I was able to make people who were not paying leave.”
But that all changed with the pandemic.
Atkins explained the money the business did have needed to be put into refurbishing rooms that were damaged by tenants.
Meanwhile, the business has a series of eviction proceedings underway in state housing courts.
“The eviction moratorium affected every single landlord in the state. Not just us,” Atkins said, describing the court system as being backed up because it is processing two years’ worth of evictions “all at once.”
“It’s not possible for them to get them done in any kind of good, timely manner,” she said.
“We have a few people here who are still in the court system that we’re not done with yet,” Atkins said. “... We won’t see any of that money.”
ARPA Steering Committee members unanimously backed the business’ application.
Scarpati thanked Atkins for the presentation.
“I know it’s not just Meriden residents you’re helping,” the mayor said, before he motioned to increase the level of funding sought. “That’s not lost on us.”
Scarpati added he wants to “make sure we’re able to assist in the sustainability of the Meriden Inn, so it’s not vandalized.”
City Manager Timothy Coon told Atkins he fully supports the application as well.
“And I particularly appreciate what the mayor added to it,” Coon said, adding he didn’t realize the damage caused to the facility’s generator resulted from a deliberate action.
Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted hospitality businesses like the Meriden Inn, the business still operates and did not have to lay off staff during that time, Atkins said.
“We went through a lot,” she said.