Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Staircases outside Inman Square Apartments in April 2022. (Photo: Chris Rycroft via Flickr)

In a hastily organized vote, the City Council castigated one of the city’s major affordable-housing developers, Homeowners Rehab Inc., for its response to heating, elevator and other problems reported by tenants at the 116-unit Inman Square Apartments. An order adopted unanimously Nov. 6 came after a tenant leader told councillors that almost all apartments had no heat.

The order said the council wanted to “formally go on record in expressing its profound disappointment with HRI’s handling of the issues at Inman Square Apartments.”

The measure also asked HRI to prepare a “comprehensive plan” to address short-term and long-term problems at the 1221 Cambridge St. building and asked that City Manager Yi-An Huang contact HRI’s executive director to offer any help the city can provide to tenants “who are being most acutely impacted by the building’s issues.”

In an answer that will be presented to councillors at the next City Council meeting Monday, the city said HRI will meet with tenants “to hear tenant concerns, share information about these recent issues” and urge tenants to continue to report complaints so that “immediate concerns will be resolved” and HRI will know about “larger concerns” as it plans for a comprehensive rehabilitation of the building.

“While it is disappointing to hear that residents here were faced with these issues recently, it is good to know that HRI has already begun planning for the larger capital improvements and systemwide repairs and upgrades needed here,” the response said. The statement also gave high praise to HRI, saying the organization is a “valued partner in providing affordable housing in our community.”

There was no timeframe for when HRI will have a plan and no money promised from the city, but Community Development Department staff will be available to help as HRI goes through the process of identifying needs and seeking funds, the response said. The meeting with tenants is similar to another effort made in the spring after similar complaints.

Executive director Sara Barcan apparently wasn’t aware of the Oct. 6 council action until Cambridge Day contacted her Friday, four days after it was approved. The measure was led by councillor E. Denise Simmons, who filed it late. It took only five minutes for the entire council to join Simmons as sponsors and approve the order.

In an emailed response, Barcan said 22 residents reported between Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 that they had no heat, with temperatures in their apartments ranging from 68 degrees in two units to “in the 70s” in the remainder.  “While temperatures were lower than optimal, all units had heat,” she said. HRI offered “temporary heat” to several tenants during “several days” of repairs, she said. After the problem was fixed, the temperature in the apartments was 74 degrees, Barcan said.

Barcan said one of two elevators broke down Nov. 3 and returned to service Nov. 6.

Trudi Goodman, a longtime tenant who has tried to bring problems in the building to the attention of city leaders for years, told councillors during the public comment portion of the Oct. 6 council meeting that 90 percent of the building was without heat.

HRI “unfortunately [has] a long history of not taking care of their buildings,” Goodman said. The housing developer promised tenants when it bought the building 12 years ago “that they would do the major and minor repairs” but didn’t, she said. Now, the pipes that carry hot water to radiators for heat are rusty, so a new boiler won’t help, Goodman said. She added that “sporadically the radiators will work, but they are not maintaining or sustaining heat.”

Among the tenants affected is a 101-year-old man who lives on the floor beneath her, Goodman said. “It is not all right for him to not have heat; in fact, it is dangerous,” she said. “I myself have a heart condition; it is not okay that I at this point have very little heat.” Goodman did not respond to an email and a phone message left Sunday and Monday.

Goodman wrote a letter to city councillors and city officials in March saying the building was “literally falling apart.” The letter resulted in Goodman meeting with Barcan and city officials; Barcan agreed to meet with all the tenants. But as for the full-scale renovation Barcan said is needed, it will have to wait, because there is too much competition for the government financing aid that is necessary to unlock private investment, she said in August. The work will cost millions of dollars, Barcan said.

At that time Barcan said HRI would continue to “invest every dollar we can in continuing to keep the building in the best shape we can until we can do a major renovation.” She said much the same on Monday: “We are working on a plan for necessary renovation, but in the current climate of high construction costs and interest rates as well as fierce competition for resources, this will take time. In the meanwhile, we will continue to work closely with residents when issues arise, and we are grateful for the partnership of the city of Cambridge,” Barcan said.

This post was updated Nov. 16, 2023, with a response from city staff.