Northampton Media: “Health Risks Alleged at Northampton Public Housing”

Northampton Media continues its investigation of conditions in Northampton’s public housing:

Health Risks Alleged at Northampton Public Housing (January 29, 2010)

K., a still-elegant woman in her mid-50s, has small-cell lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain. A member of a prominent Northampton family, she lives in a second-floor walk-up at the Cahill Apartments public housing project on Fruit Street.

Last year, while she was undergoing chemotherapy, she developed lymphedema, a buildup of lymphatic fluid causing swelling in her legs, which left her unable to walk. Her building has no elevator. More than a year later, the Northampton Housing Authority (NHA) has still not granted her emergency transfer request for an accessible ground-floor apartment.

In addition, K.‘s immune system, weakened by chemotherapy, may be compromised by unsanitary conditions at the Cahill Apartments. The NHA has taken no action on her repeated complaints about mold and water damage in her dwelling, the odors from her neighbor’s uncleaned apartment, or the trash accumulating in the back stairwell…

The rear staircase poses additional problems for K. because of its foul odor and the debris that clutters the narrow hallway and outdoor porch. In the pile under the staircase, I saw bottles labeled “propane” and “mineral spirits” jammed in among flammable cardboard boxes, plastic dishes, a broken blender and other household junk that was being stored or discarded there by a neighbor…

[Northampton Housing Authority Executive Director Jon] Hite…shared a copy of the NHA’s new 10-year, $7.68 million Capital Improvement Plan [PDF, 1.2MB, excerpts below], which would include about $6 million for Salvo House and $800,000 for Cahill—with the important caveat that the entire plan is contingent on whether the money is appropriated by the state. High-priority tasks included the installation of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) electrical outlets in apartment kitchens and bathrooms, and replacement of corrugated laundry room vent pipes with straight pipes, to prevent lint buildup that could cause fires. The report does not include any proposals to make the Cahill townhouses more handicapped-accessible…

Perhaps the budget for this 10-year plan would not be so high if the buildings hadn’t been allowed to deteriorate in the first place. Does it make sense to pour more tax dollars into properties that will quickly become damaged again through neglect?

The Joseph H. McDonald House on Old South Street, one of two federally-funded NHA properties, is a case in point. I spoke with tenants there Jan. 24 who believe they have become chronically ill from flooding-related mold, improper asbestos removal, and uncleaned ventilation systems. Once allowed to progress to this point, such hazards are difficult to remediate. The NHA’s federal properties are not mentioned in the Capital Improvement Plan, so we will investigate whether any ventilation upgrades have been budgeted separately. We’ll have more details on the McDonald tenants’ story in our next installment.
Click for the complete article in Northampton Media.

See also:

Kirby on the Loose: “Paradise Lost” (2/2/10)
The Gazette and the Republican…have never reported on living conditions in public housing and probably never will, because it is unpleasant to remind people that there are two, three, a dozen different Northamptons. There is Meadowbrook and Cahill and Crescent Street and Dryads Green.

The ugly truth is that for all the inclusiveness and diversity that we are supposed to have in this community, most of our minorities will live out their lives in projects, not normal houses. Will the woman reported on by Jendi Reiter in Northampton Media ever make it out of Cahill to Tobin Manor? I doubt it. For years Cahill Apartments, has been a dumping ground for difficult to place people, people with mental disabilities, and problem tenants who the authority can’t evict but can transfer. I gave the Gazette a study I did of Cahill some time ago, and they are just sitting on it. It’ll never hatch on its own.

Jon Hite, executive director of Northampton Housing Authority, was a political appointee, who learned on the job, and he is no great shakes as an administrator, but he is part of the club, helping the Mayor win elections, and surviving year after year by making excuses. The only cure that would work for public housing, I hate to say it, is to privatize and depoliticize it.

Northampton Media: “Passing the Buck on Salvo House Hazards” (12/18/09)

Northampton Media: “Salvo House Report” (12/16/09)

Northampton Media: “The Walter Salvo House: A Conversation with Housing Authority Director Jon Hite” (12/9/09)

Text of Plassmann Letter to Housing Authority Director Jonathan Hite (12/8/09)

Northampton Media: “Ward Three Councilor-Elect Angela Plassmann Takes on the Housing Authority” (12/7/09)

Northampton Redoubt: “Affordable Housing with a capital A” (12/6/09)

Kirby on the Loose: “Bait and Switch at the Village?” (12/9/09)

Mike Kirby: “The Meadowbrook Chronicles” “Agency’s Tenants and Apartments: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Kilter” (6/19/04)

Northampton Housing Authority Capital Improvement Plan – December 2009 (PDF, 1.2MB)