NEW BRITAIN – City building officials officially condemned 408 Arch St. Thursday after a walk-through revealed no working smoke alarms, sheet-rocked windows and other code violations including sub-standard heat that barely worked in frigid temperatures.
“We do have heat but when it gets really cold we all have to go into one room to warm up,” said Edmary Cruz who was trying to figure where she would go with her six children. “I’m really nervous,” she said. “The only family I have is my mom and she as a studio apartment.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based owner Saul Berger was ordered to meet with residents today to discuss a plan to get his tenants housed. The person who answered his phone Thursday afternoon said he wasn’t available. Subsequent calls were not answered.
Some residents were temporarily placed at a local hotel for the evening.
But as building and fire inspectors and city officials went through the four-story building Thursday afternoon, residents fretted about where they were going to live in the long term. Officials showed up Wednesday and told several people they would have to be out by March 1 because the building was going to be condemned unless it was fixed, said Kaitlyn Soderstrom who has four children ages nine through three.
The tenants tried the Friendship Center but were told the emergency shelter was full. They also had no luck with the other agencies they were told to call, she said. “If we call 211, they will send us out of town,” she said. “We’ve built our lives here, our children go to school here.”
Soderstrom pays $750 a month in rent, she said. The rent doesn’t include electricity or gas. The building houses Cisco Barbershop and Latino 2 Supermarket on the first floor and apartments above. The businesses will be allowed to stay open for the time being, city Building Director Sergio Lupo said.
The walls of the hallway to Soderstrom’s second floor apartment are marked with graffiti including a misspelled derogatory term referring to women with chunks of wood and sheetrock missing and plaster from the ceiling cluttering the stair landing. The steps on the way up are creaky and uneven. Her bathroom ceiling is covered in black mold with the toilet resting on plywood.
Ice forms on the windows when it’s cold, she said. One window is covered with only a layer of sheet rock, because there was no money to replace the glass, said Felix Fargas who identified himself as a former property manager for Berger. He quit in October because the owner of the building refused to pay for any repairs, Fargas said.
Soderstrom can barely afford the $750 a month but has paid it religiously, she said. “I have four kids, I can’t come up a first month and last month security deposit on such short notice,” she said. One of her sons with a shock of blonde curly hair runs around the apartment steering clear of building officials as they make notes in the kitchen. She bends over to dress him in tan pants and straighten out his Elmo pajama top.
After the walk-through Thursday afternoon, city officials announced that the building was condemned immediately. “None of the units are safe for residential,” said Justin Dorsey, Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Erin Stewart. Violations included a mice and rat infestation, a faulty fire alarm system, and open electrical boxes, Lupo said. There was also an illegal small engine repair operation going on in the basement and an illegal private club with no power that was stealing electricity from another unit, he said. “There were deplorable conditions,” Lupo said.
The city is working to identify paying tenants and get them hotel space for the night, Lupo said. “We’re going to try and help them find another location,” Lupo said. “Hopefully the landlord will take responsibility like he’s supposed to.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.