North End Residents Organize Against Alleged Neglect By Landlord – Hartford Courant

Recommended by Ronald Stiles, Published on July 11th, 2017

It started with a mouse bite, one little Isabella Garces received in the middle of the night a few months ago.

Word traveled fast as the 1-year-old lay in a room in St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Eventually, it reached the Rev. Ashley "AJ" Johnson, a community leader who knew Isabella's mother through his work at Thirman Milner School.

Soon, Johnson saw firsthand the poor conditions that Isabella and her mother, Katiria Rivera, live in: mouse droppings in every room, an infestation so severe that Rivera's uncle caught 31 rodents over the course of two days using glue strips.

Johnson began looking into the building's owner, ultimately unraveling a network of subsidized housing in the North End that government officials last month said "raised serious health and safety concerns."

"Hartford has to do better with situations like this," Johnson said Monday. "This guy owns a concentrated area of poverty here, and no one has shed a light on it. And there are children living here."


The young pastor is holding a community meeting Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to call attention to Emmanuel Ku, the man behind the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments. Ku, operating out of Queens, N.Y., owns 26 subsidized properties in Hartford, for a total of 150 rentable units, according to Rhonda Siciliano, a spokeswoman from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ku's battles with local housing boards have become highly publicized in other states, including Alabama, Michigan and New York.

At Johnson's insistence, HUD officials inspected the apartment building where Rivera lives on May 30. The department issued a notice of default to Ku the next week that identified "several deficiencies that needed to be corrected right away," according to a statement from the department's local office.


Those deficiencies included unsecured balconies at the building, the rodent infestation and the presence of mold in several units, Siciliano said.

Ku followed the instructions provided to him after the May inspection, the HUD statement reads. But the default notice came with an expanded inspection of 50 percent of the properties in the Renaissance Apartments, a move that the government agency noted was "much more intense than the usual sample."

That second inspection was completed June 28 and 29, and the full results of it are not yet available, according to HUD.

"I know it's not popular to organize around this, but it's a crucial issue," Johnson said. "Just because you're on HUD housing doesn't mean you're not a person."

Ku, in a statement to The Courant, said his company is aware of the issues at the apartments and is particularly concerned with the rodent issue, which he attributed to the recent demolition of a "meat packing building close by." It's unclear which building he was referring to.

Further, Ku said his company has worked continuously with an exterminator, but said the issue is not yet resolved. He encouraged tenants to sign up for the extermination service at no cost to them.

"We have undertaken recommendations irrespective of the cost by the exterminator," Ku said. "It is our mission to provide a safe and clean living environment to all tenants at CARA."

He also noted his company's efforts to increase safety around the properties by installing security cameras and underscored his commitment to "engaging tenants to learn about issues and working together to resolve them."

Josh Serrano hopes those words ring true. He lives inside a Ku-owned building on Main Street. A black patch of mold looms like a sore on the ceiling of one his bathrooms.

He said he had been complaining about conditions inside the apartment for three years. Work didn't begin, he said, until HUD came calling last month. During their visit, he threw a glue strip into the building's hallway to catch their attention. It was full of still-dying mice.

"To them, it's nothing major, but my kids use this bathroom, I use this bathroom," Serrano said. "If everything was really a 'minor problem,' nothing would get done."

Last year, Ku received $1.6 million in rent subsidies from HUD for his Hartford properties, Siciliano said. City records show he bought all of his Hartford property on the same date in 2011 from another company that owned them, Clay Hill Associates.

Representatives from Mayor Luke Bronin's office said they were unable Monday to immediately answer questions about the city's record of inspections at the building where Rivera lives, or the other properties owned by Ku through his company, Ah Min Holding LLC.

Teri Morrison, a three-year tenant who lives in the same building as Rivera, hopes the city can provide those answers. She says she hasn't had much luck in communicating with Ku and his colleagues.

"They try to blame all of our problems on us not being clean," Morrison said as she stood in her kitchen, a "ground zero" for the mice in her apartment. "This building is just old and full of holes. If you buy something, if you invest in something, you have to make sure it's safe and clean for the people living in it."

Morrison has to clean mouse droppings daily, she said, and in a recent visit to her home tiny piles of them were hidden away in corners, near apparently ineffective glue traps. She's taken to storing her bread and other bakery items in plastic bags, which she tacks to the walls above her cabinets. Fruit has to be stored in the fridge, she added.

Maintenance workers have sprayed foam sealant under her baseboard heaters three times, she said. Yet, the "mice keep getting better," she said.

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North End Residents Organize Against Alleged Neglect By Landlord - Hartford Courant

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