Six months after they first learned they would have to move out of their homes, half of the residents at Hartford’s Barbour Garden Apartments are still waiting to be permanently relocated.
One man who has been through the process after his apartment complex lost its HUD contract said the system is plagued with problems and is forcing people like himself to end up in a similar situation to the one they started in.
“I left from Clay Arsenal, did a whole 360 on my search and was forced back to these same conditions as Clay Arsenal,” said Joshua Serrano.
Serrano said when he found out he would have to be relocated after his landlord lost his million-dollar HUD contract for unsafe living conditions at the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments, he had hope that he would be able to move his son to a better neighborhood.
“It was chaos. It was chaos,” Serrano recalled.
Serrano said the clock started ticking before he even received his voucher for a new living situation.
“What mattered to HUD was that we find another place as quickly as possible,” he said.
Serrano explained that during the frustrating relocation process he felt rushed and now rents an apartment a half block away from the one he left.
“We fearing losing relocation benefits so I start looking for the closest thing in Hartford,” said Serrano.
He said those relocation benefits included money for application fees. However, with each application fees costing $50, the $100 he received didn’t go very far. Credit checks and down payments created more obstacles for the financially struggling father. He said his voucher would have covered his entire rent, so he doesn’t understand why he needed a down payment of three-months’ rent.
The biggest barrier of all was acceptance from the communities he wanted to live in.
“No community wanted me or my son,” said Serrano during a press conference, highlighting the need to change the federal relocation process. “Everybody talks about the wall at the border right but nobody wants to talk about this invisible wall that Hartford residents face when they try to better themselves and go into other communities.”
During the press conference at the Christian Activities Center, which Serrano is a member of, US Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the contractor HUD uses for the relocation process lacks readiness and a commitment to the tenants they are helping. He said he plans to demand more oversight from HUD.
“These families qualify for a government program that is failing them with our tax dollars going into the pockets of contractors, landlords, that are failing to fulfill their commitment,” Blumenthal said.
In a statement a HUD Spokesperson told NBC Connecticut News, “HUD continues to work with the families of Barbour Gardens and Infill apartments to secure their successful relocation to permanent apartments.”
After multiple rejections, former Barbour Gardens resident Tasha Jordan says she was worried she wouldn’t find a place by HUD’s original August 19 deadline.
“With a voucher we thought it was going to be easy but it was not easy at all,” said Jordan, who moved to Vernon three weeks ago.
She says she submitted a doctor’s note to the property manager two years ago, urging them to find her a new place to live. She says doctors told her the mice and mold in her apartment were causing her daughter serious health problems. Jordan says the letters were ignored.
“It was making me very sick and sometimes it made my sister sick, which made me feel sad,” said her 9-year-old daughter, Kwain’Asia Levine.
When HUD pulled the property owner’s federal housing contract due to the complex’s deteriorating conditions, she thought her relocation would be sped up. Instead, she says the process to find a new home was slow and frustrating.
“It was unorganized. It was not helpful at all,” she recalled.
Unlike Serrano, Jordan says her new apartment is an improvement from her place at Barbour Gardens.
“It is lovely. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful,” Jordan described.
In February, Barbour Garden Apartments’ owner Martin Rothman of ADAR Hartford Realty, LLC lost his HUD contract for safety code violations and unlivable conditions. The city of Hartford issued a warrant for his arrest but he has failed to show up for court.
Darlene Childs, the city’s housing code enforcement supervisor, said Hartford is redoing their housing code to get to the root of the issue and hold absentee landlords accountable.
“We need to have concrete information on how to get a hold of them,” Childs said of the changes which are still a work in progress.
Rothman is trying to sell the dilapidated property. HUD confirmed it has received an application from the prospective new owner.