Residents experiencing health issues related to chronic water leaks at Tataket and Harborview apartment buildings can apply for housing vouchers to be relocated, Bobbi J. Richards, executive director of the Falmouth Housing Authority, said. She was before the Falmouth Board of Health Monday, September 21, updating members on the two federally subsidized housing complexes that hold a total of 163 apartments. The board of health is requiring the updates after they cited FHA in August for housing conditions that impair the health, safety or wellbeing of the tenants caused by chronic dampness and mold growth.
Ms. Richards told the board of health she has received two requests for transfers. One might be going to FHA property Rose Morin Apartments, but she said there are not many units available. She is offering the other tenant a Section 8 voucher (now known as a housing choice voucher) to tenants who want to move because of health reasons or want to leave while the building is repaired, as Mr. Richards said the work ahead will be disruptive. The caveat is there is a waiting list for housing.
“Because it is a waiting list, it does not guarantee a voucher immediately, but we have allowed the tenants to claim substandard housing if they wanted to do that, which allows them to move up the waiting list,” Ms. Richards told board members. “The work that needs to be done will be quite disruptive to the tenants, so we are allowing this.”
The extensive undertaking to replace and repair the buildings’ faulty copper pipes will begin in November and will take 16 weeks at a cost of $1.4 million. The capital plan was approved in May, having learned of the severity of the water and plumbing failures last July, Ms. Richards told FHA board members last week. The buildings were constructed using poor-quality piping material used during construction in the 1970s.
The health board’s initial investigation and subsequent order of corrections stemmed from an August 16 anonymous letter that led to the health department’s inspection of both buildings. In the unsigned letter, tenants complained of unhealthy living conditions from years of water damage. Tenants have since said the issue has been going on for years.
Falmouth Health Agent Scott McGann at the last board of health meeting said he would offer to tenants inspections of their units for mold or other issues, since he felt many tenants were afraid to go to Ms. Richards. The anonymous letter states they were afraid of retaliation from her.
To date, no one has taken the health department up on their offer, although Ms. Richards said a few tenants have come to her wanting inspections. She said she sent in third-party inspectors to any units where tenants recently made complaints of leaking issues and to units where tenants had made complaints within the last few months.
According to invoices from the FHA, three units have been inspected, and mold was found one on the first floor of the Tataket building.
“I wanted the board to see this is the procedure for the FHA even before we received the complaint. You can see how often we go in and what the process is. We have been using ServePro and Disaster Specialists. That is our standard procedure,” Ms. Richards said.
A health department agent went back to the buildings last Friday, September 18, to check on the remediation work being done ahead of the more permanent solution of replacing the plumbing that begins in November.
Since FHA was cited, a third-party consultant has created containment areas while cutting mold out of the ceilings and walls. The first-floor carpet was steam-cleaned as well. At Tataket, the walkways that had bubbled were patched, according to the invoices.
“They have made a lot of progress, but there is still a fair amount of work to be done,” Mr. McGann said.