Imagine that your daughter is afraid to go to sleep at night.  Afraid not because of a boogieman under her bed or shadow monsters dancing on the wall, but afraid because mice constantly run across her bed and bite her.  This may be a nightmarish movie plot for many of us, but it was a horrific reality for residents of the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments (CARA) in Hartford’s North End.

This past April, Rev AJ Johnson, community organizer for the Christian Activities Council (CAC), was informed by an administrator at Thirman Milner School – where CAC recently helped organized parents win a school safety campaign – that 1-year-old, Isabella Garces, come to school with mice bites.  By the time AJ reached out to her mother, little Isabella was in the hospital.  She had ingested the rat poisoning that her mother used to remedy the mice infestation.

The mice infestation in Isabella’s family’s apartment was so severe, that her uncle caught over 31 in two days.  However, Isabella’s family was not alone.  More residents came forward attesting to a severe infestation throughout CARA, owned by Emmanuel Ku out of New York.  Residents complained that management-supplied glue traps filled with dead mice littered their apartments. They also raised concerns about severe mold in bathrooms, incorrectly installed windows, underqualified and understaffed maintenance, and overall neglect of the property.  Despite Ku getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax abatements and $1.6 million in federal subsidies from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), CARA residents were stuck trying to raise families in hazardous housing.

With CAC’s help, CARA residents got organized!  After weeks of research, gathering testimonies of other tenants, and building solidarity amongst themselves, CARA residents – under the leadership of Milagros Ortiz, Joshua Serrano, and Teri Morrison – held a public meeting on July 11, 2017, at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Albany Avenue to call out Ku and demand better.  The meeting, heavily attended by the media, HUD officials, North End residents, and local clergy put unavoidable pressure on Ku.

Since this meeting, Ku’s management team has been working with HUD to address the various issues. They hired a rodentologist to address the infestation, have improved maintenance processes, and done necessary fixes to some apartment.  There is still more that Ku has yet to do. However, we must also ask how our city allows a nation-wide slumlord to secure HUD properties that, because of his negligence, causes harm and distress to low income families and neighborhoods.

*Featured photo courtesy of the Hartford Courant.

Media coverage of this housing campaign:

Hartford Courant