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Frustrated by housing problems, residents join New Haven's 2nd tenants' union

Blake Street Tenants Union in New Haven, Connecticut rally outside of Ocean Management properties office as they seek to call attention to the treatment of residents at two of the Ocean Management properties. This comes on the heels of a nearly 30% rent hike, refusal to give tenants leases, and poor living conditions with rodents, extremely slow repairs and poor communication. Tenants have posted pictures of terrible living conditions online.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
Blake Street Tenants Union in New Haven, Connecticut rally outside of Ocean Management properties office as they seek to call attention to the treatment of residents at two of the Ocean Management properties. This comes on the heels of a nearly 30% rent hike, refusal to give tenants leases, and poor living conditions with rodents, extremely slow repairs and poor communication. Tenants have posted pictures of terrible living conditions online.

After a series of ongoing housing concerns, residents of a New Haven apartment building have formed the city’s second tenants' union.

Residents of 1476 Chapel St. finalized the formation of their tenants' union in City Hall Tuesday morning.

Tenants say they were spurred to action by safety concerns in the building, including exposed electrical wiring, fire escapes that do not reach the ground and rodent infestation, among other issues.

Annie Hardy, a union member, said the rodents are particularly concerning to her as she lives with her daughter.

“I’m constantly investing in treating the rodent problem. I have a daughter, so that’s a big deal, to make sure she stays in safe and clean, sanitary areas of the house,” Hardy said.

Tenants say the building’s operators, Ocean Management, are often unresponsive when they approach them with safety issues.

Hardy, who has lived at the Chapel Street apartments for more than a year, said the building’s condition worsened since she moved in.

Shanelyah Yasharek from the Blake Street Tenant Union rallies outside of Ocean Management in hopes to negotiate a new contract and raise awareness of the treatment of residents at two of the Ocean Management properties. This comes on the heels of a nearly 30% rent hike, refusal to give tenants leases, and poor living conditions with rodents, extremely slow repairs and poor communication. Tenants have posted pictures of terrible living conditions online.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
Shanelyah Yasharek from the Blake Street Tenant Union rallies outside of Ocean Management in hopes to negotiate a new contract and raise awareness of the treatment of residents at two of the Ocean Management properties.

“It's hard to get in contact with Ocean. When they do respond, sometimes the maintenance people don't show up, they don’t follow up with the problem. They fall short,” Hardy said.

The 1476 Chapel Street tenants' union has eight members. The building has 18 units, eight of which are vacant, according to the city.

Chapel Street is the second group of residents to establish a union, following the formation of Blake Street Tenants Union in November. The Blake Street union is residents of a 70-unit complex located at 311 Blake Street, which is also owned by Ocean Management.

The union formations come less than a year after New Haven established a law, the first of its kind in the state, to officially recognize and define a tenants union.

Chapel Street union residents met with Blake Street unionists and Ocean Management Tuesday afternoon with plans to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement.

In September 2022, Mayor Justin Elicker signed into law the city ordinance. The law empowers tenants of properties with 10 or more rental units that share a common location and ownership to collectively engage with the city’s Fair Rent Commission (FRC), when seeking redress on rent increases and substandard living conditions, while also recognizing the due process rights of landlords.

From left, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, Wildaliz Bermudez, Executive Director of the Fair Rent Commission, Annie hardy and Amanda Watts react after signing notarized papers to form a tenant union.
Abigail Brone
/
Connecticut Public
From left, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, Wildaliz Bermudez, Executive Director of the Fair Rent Commission, Annie hardy and Amanda Watts react after signing notarized papers to form a tenant union.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we want to do more of and we as a city need to do more to help ensure people are living in healthy environments too,” Elicker said.

The ordinance also protects residents from retaliation for filing a complaint against landlords.

In the last year, fair rent complaints have tripled, according to the city’s Fair Rent Commission Executive Director Wildaliz Bermúdez.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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