Donna Baldwin is sitting in a chair in the driveway of the Robeson Elderly Housing complex at Dewitt and Rosette Street with a couple of other tenants on a hot Sunday afternoon.
I walk up and introduce myself, but don’t even have to finish-she already knows why I’m here.
“The conditions?” Baldwin asks. “Follow me. I’ll take you inside and give you a tour.”
She already gave this walkthrough last summer-to the New Haven Register, which ran a lengthy article detailing tenant complaints that ranged from a lack of security to uncleanliness in the hallways of the Harp family-run building. But a year later, the problems persist, tenants say.
Before I can go inside with Baldwin, Willy Hannon, who wears a U.S. Army cap and rides around in a motorized wheelchair scooter, wants to show me around the outside. He rounds the corner and stops in the middle of the building’s back parking lot.
“When it rains, this all fills up with water,” Hannon tells me. “The drains don’t work. I can’t get out.”
That’s because the only wheelchair ramp is at the backdoor of the building, close to where William Pew, another tenant, is sitting at a table on the lawn playing cards with a couple of friends. He echoes Hannon’s complaints about the flooding.
Pew points to a black jeep sitting in the inner most parking lane-perpendicular to the building’s dumpster-in the lot.
“If it rained right now, the water would be all the way out there in ten minutes,” Pew says. “It goes all the way to the back of that car. You can’t get to the trash.”
I’ve lost Baldwin, who went on ahead without me, but getting inside the building isn’t a problem because the backdoor doesn’t lock-the chief concern voiced by residents last year, as well as now.
That’s what caused the stairwell nearest to the front entrance of the building to become littered with the trash and bags of abandoned clothing, tenants say. The stairs closest to the backdoor are stained with what Baldwin and other residents have said is urine.
Back outside, I’m able to catch up with Baldwin, who is back where I found her.
“I don’t blame them for not wanting to clean that mess, but it’s not the people living in the building that are doin it,” she says.
Less than two weeks after word of the senior Section 8 complex’s conditions first broke last year, it was cleaned. The New Haven Independent reported fixes-of the backdoor lock and the building’s elevator, amongst other issues-made by Renaissance Management and its president, Matthew Harp, the son of Mayor Toni Harp.
Matthew Harp, who did not return a message requesting comment, told media outlets last year that from his experience, conditions in low income housing projects-95 percent of the 200 Renaissance Management run apartments in the city classify as Section 8, according to The Independent-tend to deteriorate even after work is done on them.
If that’s the case, Robeson Elderly Housing-for whatever reason-is proving that point.
“People can access this building,” Baldwin says. “They urinate in the elevator. Then you track that into your house and it’s nasty.”
And that’s when the elevator is working, tenants say. Although that was reportedly one of the issues addressed in Harp’s cleanup last year, tenants say that it still has sporadic breakdowns-a problem for elderly and disabled residents living higher than the first floor. Baldwin and her husband are on the third level.
“Every week they’re talking about the elevator being stuck in the basement,” Baldwin says. “My husband’s 85 years old. He can’t walk those stairs.”
When I checked the place out, the elevator was having one of its better days-it arrived at the first floor almost instantly when I tested it-but tenants say that they have had another, more persistent problem: the doorbell intercoms. They have not been working in some apartments, so residents cannot simply buzz a visitor in.
“There’s three people up there [on the third floor] that are real sick,” Baldwin says.
She’s just been joined by Bobby Griffin, another one of the building’s tenants.
“There’s a guy who is 85 years old, and he’s got to let his nurse in,” Griffin says.
“I let them in,” Baldwin says.
“Or they call me at my window, and I let them in,” Griffin adds.
During the winter, life on the third floor gets even more difficult, Baldwin says. She points to the windows. On the first two floors, it is painted pink above the windows, but not on the third-that’s brown.
“They’re supposed to insulate,” she says. “They stopped when they got to the third floor. I wish you were up here during the winter-it feels like you’re outside.”
Baldwin says she pays $265 per month to live at Robeson Elderly Housing, which charges rent based on a tenant’s income. She’s been vocal before about the conditions there, and she says she’s not afraid to keep speaking up about them.
“I make complaints all the time,” Baldwin says. “I’ve made about four. They know me. [They say] ‘What is it now, Mrs. Baldwin?’”