Beyond a discarded sofa, mattress and cabinet at Wilbur Peck are homes in the private residential community of Milbrook. Credit: Leslie Yager
Second in a series on conditions inside Greenwich’s two largest public housing projects
The feature A Peek Inside The Peck and Armstrong Court, published Jan 4 on Greenwich Free Press was read by thousands. The story received 728 Facebook likes and sparked much conversation on Facebook and homepage where one reader said, “These are deplorable conditions in this very rich town and are inexcusable.”
The second comment was unsympathetic. “Why would one expect a subsidized housing complex to be in perfect repair. One should WANT to move out as soon as possible.”
A comment from a one-year resident at Wilbur Peck said, “There is no hot water to shower ever, and the worst part we were without hot water for almost two months in November and December 2015 because from what they said was that they were waiting for a part to fix it.”
On Jan. 7, a caller to Sam Romeo’s weekly Greenwich Matters radio show on WGCH 1490 am described issues with her apartment in Armstrong Court. She said she’d been going to her mother’s in Stamford to get hot showers for weeks.
Mold in an apartment in Armstrong Court.
Mold in an apartment in Armstrong Court.
She asked about lead paint and lead in the soil.
Lastly, she asked Mr. Romeo, chair of the board of the Housing Authority when the major renovation would take place.
“If we can get this money from the state, it’s going to be like a gated community,” he promised, after reassuring her that the lead had been remediated, and that he was working against a “NIMBY” attitude of neighbors.
The NIMBY comment likely stems back to December 2014, when Booth Court neighbor Dawn Fortunato called into Mr. Romeo’s radio show and suggested Armstrong Court soil was contaminated after years of the incinerator burning at the town dump.
Fortunato insisted there was mold and unsanitary living conditions in Armstrong Court:
FORTUNATO: Mold in there. Old pipes. You guys aren’t even above board. The people living in Armstrong Court are living in unsanitary living conditions.
ROMEO: Now you’re making accusations.
FORTUNATO: There’s not mold in the building?
ROMEO: No, there’s not. If there was we’d be in big trouble. We’ve done a lot of extensive renovations.
FORTUNATO: I’m not trying to stop the project. It’s their quality of life. They’re not getting quality of life. You need to be open with the public.
ROMEO: They’re going to have a better quality of life when we’re done with the renovations. And no thanks to you.
Continuing the conversation on Jan. 7 with the caller from Armstrong Court, Mr. Romeo said, “There was some lead,” he said, pointing out that Armstrong Court was built in 1951. “Back in those days the paint of the day had lead in it. We asked for the environmental assessment because we’re planning this massive renovation,” he said.
Environmental testing was done in Armstrong Court in April 2014 by Fuss & O’Neill Inc, as required for the application for state funding, but Mr. Romeo failed to mention that the remediation of soil and lead paint was not done until April 2015, a full year later.
The remediation was not done until after an FOI request by Dawn Fortunato yielded the environmental report, the results were published on this news site, and the Greenwich Health Department got involved.
Lead Paint, Mold & PCBs Found at Armstrong Court
EPA Investigation of Lead and Toxins in Armstrong Court Includes Multiple Agencies
State, Local Dept of Health to Meet with HATG to Discuss Lead Remediation at Armstrong Court
“They found lead in the soil under one of the drip lines. Water would run down the side of the building and drip down into the ground… lead got into that area, in the ground,” Romeo told the caller. “But it wasn’t hazardous to residents unless you picked up the dirt and ate it…”
“And one door had flaking lead on it,” Romeo said dismissively. “All our maintenance people are certified to remediate lead. So we remediated it already. All you have to do is remove the soil, replace it and plant grass seeds.”
“I don’t think there’s any lead on your walls,” Romeo reassured the caller. “Every time an apartment is vacated it’s repainted… I want to talk to you. I want to know what’s going on. I’m the first guy to ring the bell about something in Armstrong Court. I’m on top of the maintenance people. You do know I am the chair of the Housing Authority?” he said. “I’m in charge. I’m the rain maker to fix things. If you have a problem I really want to know and I want to come down. I talk to our executive director every day. I’m on top of this whole renovation… I want it done because the people who live in Armstrong Court deserve a better quality of life.
“It’s pretty hard to live here,” the caller said.
Letter from August 2015 informing the Housing Authority of Greenwich that they were not selected for funding, but suggesting the HATG can apply again in 2016.
“We’re going to put in 18 new townhouses along Hamilton Avenue, and relocate people as we go along, building-by-building and shuffle people in. You’re going to get two bathrooms in every apartment, new kitchens with brand new appliances.”
On August 11, 2015, the Connecticut Dept of Housing emailed the Housing Authority to say their application had not been selected for funding. The letter says the housing authority of Greenwich can apply again in 2016, and that applications are due April 27, 2016.
“I had to call housing a few times. Me and my daughter have been going to my mother’s in Stamford to shower,” she said. “I called the housing dept about my heat and hot water and they left me a note saying they were on. Every single winter I have the same problem.”
“But we just replaced the boiler,” Romeo said. I was told no, there were no issues.”
“I have issues all the time,” the caller said.
“I want to talk to you. I want to come by. If you don’t mind. The last thing you need to worry about is retribution,” he said.
“I’ve had to call the Health Department and the man comes in and checks the temperature. He was here last year three times and had to fix mold issues,” she said adding that her porch door had been sealed shut. “They had to come in and kick it open.”
“If I’m not getting the true story, I want to know,” Mr. Romeo insisted.
“We’re paying people to fix things, and if they’re not doing it, we want to know,” said Romeo’s wife Mary on the radio.
“I’ll be your best friend, not your enemy,” Romeo said.
“I don’t want to be told by maintenance not to take a shower,” the caller said.
“We just spent almost $3 million a new boiler system. Everyone in the complex should be able to use the hot water at the same time,” Romeo said, promising to hold a meeting at Armstrong Court on Jan. 17 at 1:00pm.
“How about you get them together and we meet in the community room, and I talk to all of them,” he said.
The caller hesitated to organize the meeting on her end, but promised to attend. “I feel like a lot of people in Greenwich housing are a little bit of bullies,” she said.
“Everybody, when I came on board, went through sensitivity training to change the persona of bullying and intimidation. If that’s happening, somebody is going to be in deep trouble,” he said.
“I’m probably the best friend that people in public housing have at this point,” Romeo said. “You called the right guy. I’m the man,” Romeo said, offering the caller his cell phone number. “There is no retribution. Honestly.”
“Let me talk to Lisette and Tony Johnson – the first guy to jump and get things fixed. Tony is a real hard worker,” Romeo said.
“This lady who runs Armstrong Court has no compassion for people,” the caller said.
A second caller to Mr. Romeo on the radio show on Jan. 7 said she too was plagued by problems, including moth infestations and sewage that backed up into her bath tub.
Mr. Romeo said he remembered the incident involving sewage backing up in a tub, and having come down himself to help with the repair.
“You did not come to my apartment,” the caller said, suggesting the problem had occurred to more than one tenant.
“It’s not one problem. It’s one after the next… between the moths and the roaches….”
Mr. Romeo repeated his willingness to come to Armstrong Court on Sunday, Jan 17, and was eager to talk to residents. “I want to hear from the residents. If there’s any problems I want to hear about them.”
Proposed townhouses at Armstrong Court.
“I’m really pushing for these renovations. It’s going to be like a gated community,” Romeo said. “The first phase is to build the 18 townhouses, and then move the people out of the buildings in stages.”
Again, Mr. Romeo said there were neighbors with a NIMBY attitude who are “throwing a rock at our program. It really disturbs me.”
Mr. Romeo said to the second Armstrong Court caller, “Bed bugs don’t just magically appear. They come in from the outside. They’re getting in there because someone carried them in,” he said. “They’re not being born there or just magically appearing.”
The caller suggested bugs live in the walls and never go away permanently. She said a neighbor with bed bugs was billed by the housing authority for the Orkin invoice.
“Housing is supposed to pay for that bill,” Romeo said. “That I have to look into.”
The caller said her toddler has severe asthma, which she attributes to mold. Mr. Romeo went to break and asked to speak to the caller off the air.
After the break, he said anyone living in Armstrong Court would be receiving a letter about a meeting at 1:00pm on Jan. 17 in the community room.
The notice never arrived. The meeting did not take place.
CHFA capital needs assessment report, July 2013.
The Greenwich Free Press feature on Jan 3 entitled A Peek Inside Armstrong Court and The Peck, included a photo from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority needs assessment dated July 2013.
On Jan 5 the HATG posted a photo on the Greenwich Free Press Facebook timeline of the same roof stating, “All drain problems have been fixed.”
Between January 10 – 13, Greenwich Free Press accepted additional invitations to visit tenants inside Wilbur Peck, of which there are no plans for renovation.
One young mother asked if this reporter had noticed a consistent smell in all the units, which was true.
“That’s the smell of cockroach feces. Everyone at Wilbur Peck absorbs that smell,” she said.
She said she’d given up hope that bed bugs and roaches would ever go away permanently. She said she uses natural remedies like tea tree oil to keep the roaches at bay, and that daily vacuuming is part of her routine.
She said that because roaches come out at night, she leaves lights on. “I have left the stove light on for over a decade,” she said.
“You want to get rid of the achievement gap in Greenwich Schools? Get rid of the bugs in these places,” said the Wilbur Peck resident.
She also complained of the constant threats of fines. “You break something, you get fined. If it’s a big fine, they put you on a payment plan.”
“On tax refund day, coming up, you’ll see everyone getting new furniture. They’ll be replacing all the furniture they’ve had to throw out because of bed bugs,” said the Wilbur Peck resident.
Touching on a theme many tenants had brought up, she said she lacks hot water. “I am on my feet nine hours at work, pick up my children and give them baths. Don’t you think I deserve a hot shower after all that?” she asked.
Shortly after our visit, she sent a photo of the cold brown water that filled her tub on a cold January morning.
Wilbur Peck bathtub filled with brown water, Jan. 2016
Another Wilbur Peck tenant we visited, like others before her, pointed to mold in the bathroom and a lack of a bathroom fan.
She said cockroaches nest in the walls and come out through the power outlets and baseboards. She peeled back the rubber baseboard to reveal where the roaches hide. She said all of her children have asthma.
She said the bed bugs had been an issue and that the Dept of Social Services at one point paid to replace her children’s beds. She said Cynthia Bowser with Greenwich’s social services is kind and helpful, but Wilbur Peck management are not.
She said residents live not only with the threat of fines, but of quick eviction.
“They give you 14 days notice when they evict you. It happens quickly.”
Wilbur Peck bathroom ceiling photographed mid-January 2016.
Of the sofa and mattresses out by the dumpsters, she guessed either a family had been evicted, or they’d tossed their possessions because of bedbugs.
Her complaints continued. A refrigerator on the fritz that the housing authority would not replace? She bought own. A gas stove on the fritz? “It took 10 years to get them to replace it.”
She said hot water was unreliable. “It runs out in the morning and at night. You have to shower off-peak,” she said.
She described the bright lights on the grounds of Wilbur Peck as “Wilbur Hollywood,” and rolled her eyes, adding that although residents get one free parking sticker for a car, outsiders leave cars at Wilbur Peck for days at a time. She said by 8:00pm or 9:00pm, the parking spaces run out.
“I’ve given up complaining to the housing authority,” she said. “The folks who’ve been here the longest – they’ve all given up hope.”
Following up with the callers to Mr. Romeo’s Jan. 7 show, the first caller reported being promised a visit from Anthony Johnson, but instead the maintenance manager and a maintenance man came check her hot water. They came when she was not home and left a note saying it had been checked.
She said the hot water remains intermittent in her bathroom, but consistently hot in her kitchen sink, and that she continues to give her young daughter “bird baths.”
The second caller to Mr. Romeo’s Jan 7 radio program said the housing management came to check her heat. She reported that it is warmer in her apartment since the visit, and that they sprayed for roaches too.
She said she was disappointed she never saw a notice of a group meeting with Mr. Romeo
She received a letter from Terry Mardula telling her not to contact Mr. Romeo again, and instead to contact the housing authority office in future.
Patched door in Wilbur Peck
Kitchen cabinet in Wilbur Peck
A Peek at Living Conditions inside The Peck and Armstrong Court
Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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