Residents Of Hartford's Chappelle Gardens Call For Change
By MARK SPENCER
May 24, 2010
HARTFORD —Chanting "We want change," about 50 residents of Chappelle Gardens and community activists on Monday aired their grievances about conditions at the 188-unit housing cooperative and called for a meeting to elect a new board of directors.
Leaders of the group said they will seek an injunction to force an election and will meet todaywith representatives of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson in an effort to seek greater oversight of Chappelle Gardens by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Heywood Jackson, 72, said his family was one of the first to move to the complex in 1974, drawn by the promise of a strong community in the city's North End and the opportunity to eventually own the apartment they lived in. Instead, he said, things have progressively gotten worse.
"We can no longer accept the way Chappelle Gardens is being run," Jackson said.
Residents said garbage collection at the 22-acre complex was inadequate, poor lighting encouraged drug activity, locked iron gates in parts of the complex posed a public safety risk and maintenance was done by unlicensed subcontractors.
The residents stood in front of the Ludella Williams Community Center, a $965,000 building opened in 2007 and named for Chappelle's longtime president, that they said Williams does not let them use.
"How can you be locked out of a place that your tax dollars built?" asked the Rev. Wayne A. Carter, who has offered the nearby Mount Moriah Baptist Church for community meetings.
A group of residents calling themselves The New Community at Chappelle Gardens has been working with organizers from Hartford Areas Rally Together to bring about changes.
In a statement Monday, Rhonda Siciliano said that HUD continues to work with Chappelle Gardens' management and tenants to resolve issues.
Although the bylaws of Chappelle Gardens Inc., the nonprofit group that runs the complex, stipulate no one can be an officer for more than three years, Williams has been president for most of its existence.
Williams denied Monday there are serious problems at Chappelle and said an election for board of directors is scheduled for June.
"You have a bunch of people who have never moved a finger for Chappelle Gardens," Williams said of her opponents. "At this point, they're getting to be a nuisance."
Resident Shawnda Barlow said up to 40 units at the complex have been left vacant, despite a waiting list of low- and moderate-income families that want to move in. An agreement signed in 1995 established a plan for residents to buy their apartments in 15 years, beginning this September, but residents have been "left in the dark" about the process,she said.
"Why has HUD allowed this to go on for so long and not taken action?" Barlow said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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