By TAYLOR HARTZ
When former Bristol resident Sam Alkas stood before the Bristol City Council last week and was asked to provide an address for the record, he could only provide a previous one.
Two weeks after being displaced from his home on High Street, Alkas is still living in a New Britain hotel.
Alkas was a former resident of one of the 12 apartments in the 116-122 High St. building that was recently condemned by the city of Bristol. He and the residents of other units on the property, managed by Anthony Cammariere of Silvermine Properties, were displaced pending repairs to the building.
Sitting in his room at the New Britain La Quinta Inn and Suites, Alkas stands by the gratitude he expressed to the Bristol City Council last week for their efforts to condemn the building. Alkas is the one who contacted the council regarding unsafe conditions in the building.
Councilwoman Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, who heads the Bristol Code Enforcement Committee, said the committee is comprised of a team of leaders from city building, zoning and housing departments to ensure safety for residents.
“We aren’t knocking on people’s doors,” said Zoppo-Sassu, explaining that the committee’s decision to condemn a building is always a complaint driven process, “this is for people who have quality of life issues.”
Although he is displaced and most of his belongings remain in storage, Alkas said he is glad to be living in a hotel, rather than in Cammariere’s property.
Alkas noticed the signs of a problematic apartment on June 1, 2014 – the day he moved in. When he arrived to his first-floor apartment at the start of his lease, the apartment had not been cleaned since the prior tenant.
“We’ll get it done, we’ll get it done” Alkas said was his landlord’s mantra.
Just two months later, he approached the Building Department with his first set of complaints.
Alkas described a crack in the kitchen wall about an inch thick, that grew every time use of the fire escape on the side of the building shook his walls.
The dumpster would go two to three weeks without being emptied, overflowing in neighboring yards and requiring intervention by the Health Department.
Staircases at the building’s entrances were crumbling beneath the tenants.
When winter came, the building’s main door wouldn’t close, making for an increasingly cold winter and rising electric bills as heat flowed right out the open entry way.
Alkas’ list continued.
Zoppo-Sassu said the committee first approached Cammariere with a list of repairs in August, when he attained permits allowing him six months to get the building up to code. While the crumbling porches were repaired in time, a second visit following Alkas’ complaint showed the committee that not much else had been done. When his debt in back taxes was discovered, Cammariere was no longer eligible for the permits that allowed him more time to repair the building, and the committee issued their warning to condemn.
“He was in a cycle where he wasn’t going to get anything done,” said Zoppo-Sassu, “That’s when we had to displace people, for their own safety.”
On Wednesday, April 2, Alkas came home to find condemnation signs posted on the building and apartment doors. Less than one week later, on April 8, the tenants were expected to be out of the building.
With the short notice, the tenants struggled to find new housing and many were placed in hotels for temporary shelter.
While Alkas is perusing Craigslist and newspaper ads on a daily basis in search of an apartment, he said it has proven difficult to find a lease in the middle of the month, and the reputation that follows a condemned building is proving problematic.
Zoppo-Sassu said they are doing the best they can to provide assistance for those displaced. The city’s relocation policy is accounting for hotel stays, and state programs for housing assistance and rapid rehousing are all being pooled for eligible resources.
Alkas, who previously lived on a $500 monthly rent budget, would not have been able to secure housing without the city’s help. The city continues to fund his $89 per night room at the La Quinta Inn and Suites and the Bristol Community Organization Inc., has provided him with a security deposit for his next apartment.
Alkas said he often wonders if he did the right thing by filing a complaint, but assures himself that his actions were necessary. “I know I did,” he said, recalling that he saw a neighboring tenant raising a young child with slabs of plywood substituting solid floors.
Resolving unsafe conditions, like cracking walls and unstable floors, has been the top priority throughout the committee’s seven-month involvement with the High Street property. “Life safety and sanitary living conditions are everyone’s right,” said Zoppo-Sassu.