SOUTHINGTON — Residents of the Pulaski Terrace housing complex, a 40-unit property owned and operated by the Southington Housing Authority, feel left in the dark about renovations being made to their community center and the status of complaints about leaking roofs and mold.
The renovation came as a surprise to residents of the 6 Carter Lane complex, who say they found the doors of the building locked when they went to use the laundry machines inside. The building also serves as a drop-off point for food from Bread for Life and a communal gathering spot before the pandemic.
“There's a lot that goes on that we don't know about firsthand,” said Paula Mulherin, who has lived at Pulaski Terrace for three years. She would’ve liked to have seen residents notified while renovation plans were being considered and be included in the conversation.
The housing authority operates four complexes in town for low-income elderly or disabled residents. Housing authority Director Julie A. Cossette said the community center at Pulaski Terrace was closed for 10 days starting on Nov. 4 while new flooring was being installed in the area of the washing machines. Residents were sent notices of the closing and told they could use the washing facilities at the other three properties in town owned by the authority.
Residents’ concerns piqued when they were told that some office space would be relocated from the housing authority’s main administrative space inside its 43 Academy St. offices to the community center building.
Residents said the plan would have left them with little space to hold gatherings once the pandemic has passed or to use the building as a shelter in the event of a power outage, since the building has a generator.
“That's our safe haven if we lose power in the winter,” one resident said. “ … This isn’t just renting an apartment, you have elderly people who have needs.”
Sharon O’Brien, chairperson of the authority’s board of commissioners, said the community center originally housed office space and there was a proposal to move two ancillary offices back into the building. However, the board has since decided to keep those offices at Academy Street and maintain the building as a community center after renovations are complete. A partially built wall which was installed as part of the process of adding office space will be removed, O’Brien said.
Cossette said the relocation of office space was approved by the board, which gave her discretion to determine the size of the offices there. Based on resident input, she said they are instead exploring modifying their Academy Street offices.
Town Council Chairperson Victoria Triano said she had heard from numerous residents with concerns about the community center and attended Tuesday’s Housing Authority meeting to assure residents that if they bring their concerns to authority board members those concerns will be addressed.
“We appoint the housing commission and I have complete trust in them. I'm sure as they hear different things from the residents I'm sure they’ll be quick to answer them,” she told the Record-Journal.
She said it is her understanding that the community center will remain available to residents after the renovations are complete.
“It is my understanding that the other plans are being worked out … the community center will remain a community center intact,” she said.
But Cossette said Triano’s appearance at the board meeting was exerting undue influence over the independence of the Housing Authority from the town. Though the authority’s board is appointed by the Town Council, aside from a tenant representative, she said its operations are independent from the town.
“We cannot operate with interference from a town councilperson,” she said.Tenant concerns
Though the offices may not be moved to Carter Lane, residents say the way the temporary closure of the building and ongoing renovations have been handled is emblematic of a lack of communication from the housing authority’s administration.
“I think the community center was the tipping point,” Mulherin said.
She said residents have reported problems with mold, leaking roofs and uneven walkways to a maintenance hotline, but have had the problems go unresolved.
The same resident who shared concerns about losing the ability to utilize the community center as a shelter said a leak in his ceiling went unresolved for eight years. When water seeped into his ceiling lights and damaged them, staff replaced those but didn’t fix the underlying issue. When the roof began to sag he had to install his sheetrock screws on his own.
Cossette said the authority has internal maintenance staff, but has had to bring on contractors licensed in certain areas of work to keep aging equipment operating, such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems.
“As equipment is getting older we really need professionals to be working on them,” she said.
O’Brien said residents have recently reported issues with their units that the housing authority was previously unaware of, but she feels as a whole its units are well maintained.
“We want to provide our residents with a very high quality of life,” she said, adding that they have an obligation beyond just providing affordable housing.