July 13, 2024

Home Inspection

Home Inspection, Primary Monitoring for Your Home

Worcester public housing community receives high inspection score, despite complaints

4 min read

Federal housing officials say they recently gave the largest public housing community in Worcester a “very good” score after inspecting several of the property’s apartments.

The inspection in early March came as multiple Massachusetts agencies
continued to look into complaints of improper living and working standards at complexes run by the Worcester Housing Authority.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would not confirm or deny whether the state reviews of the Worcester Housing Authority prompted their own inspection.

Officials said the two-day inspection of Great Brook Valley Gardens involved a random sample of 31 apartments. A contracted inspector evaluated the condition of everything from walls and floors to kitchen appliances, heating and plumbing in each unit. The inspector gave the living standards at the community a 92 out of 100, meaning the federal department will not have to inspect the property again for another three to four years.

“The conditions in the units that were inspected seemed pretty good,” said Ashley Sheriff, deputy assistant secretary for HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center. “I didn’t see anything in the inspection report that seemed incongruous with the score that they received.”

The evaluation by HUD followed a state inspection in February of apartments at other public housing complexes in Worcester. Officials with the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities said they did not see any deficiencies that were outside the expected range for older public housing developments.

Officials with the Worcester Housing Authority celebrated the results from the inspection of Great Brook Valley Gardens. Alex Corrales, the Worcester Housing Authority’s CEO, said the high score was especially impressive considering the housing complex is more than 60 years old and sprawls across 60 acres.

“The 500-plus units that we’re responsible for, it’s just a tremendous amount of work that our staff puts in,” Corrales said.

The findings of the HUD inspection conflict with the experiences of more than two dozen residents of Worcester public housing complexes, including Great Brook Valley Gardens, who have complained to GBH News about their living conditions. They noted problems ranging from inadequate heating and mold to plumping backups and discolored tap water.

Chris, one resident at Great Brook Valley Gardens, said the housing authority has done little to improve the condition of her apartment and has retaliated after she’s complained in the past.

She said her heater doesn’t keep her apartment warm. Maintenance workers also improperly tended to cracks in her walls in her unit and left behind messes that the housing authority then blames her for, she said. Chris declined to use her full name because she fears retaliation in the form of fines or even eviction for criticizing the housing authority.

Another Great Brook Valley Gardens resident nicknamed Yaimy said she was surprised to hear the inspection result was so high and questioned whether the apartments that the inspector evaluated accurately reflected living conditions throughout the community.

Yaimy, who also declined to use her full name because she fears retaliation, said she keeps her apartment clean but it’s still infested with mice and roaches. She’s complained to the housing authority, which has responded by giving her mouse traps and roach bait, but Yaimy said the problem persists.

“The bottom of my stove where you can put pans there, that is full of [mouse] poop,” she said, noting her apartment wasn’t among those inspected by HUD. “This apartment is never gonna pass inspection.”

The office of Massachusetts Auditor Diana DiZoglio said she continues to look into living standards at communities administered by the Worcester Housing Authority. Separately, the state Department of Labor Standards confirmed it’s also still investigating possible safety and health hazards for employees of the housing authority.

Sheriff noted that HUD regularly inspects housing units across the country as part of the federal government’s oversight of public housing. GBH News told her that residents continue to complain about living conditions at Great Brook Valley Gardens despite the high inspection score. Sheriff responded that inspectors don’t interview tenants as part of their evaluations. But she added the agency does plan to solicit resident feedback in the future about living conditions at public housing complexes nationwide.

She also said HUD employs “very robust quality assurance mechanisms,” including follow-up inspections and internal reviews to ensure the credibility of its inspection program. As of right now, HUD officials said they do not plan on sending another inspector to evaluate more apartments at Great Brook Valley Gardens.

In an interview, Corrales — the Worcester Housing Authority’s CEO — pushed back against criticism of living conditions at the city’s public housing communities and said his maintenance team responds to all work order requests. He also accused some residents of not providing the “entire picture” when they complain about living conditions.

Some residents bear responsibility for the problems in their apartments, Corrales said. For example, a recent plumbing backup in one apartment was due to the tenants dumping cooking grease down their drain, he said.

“I don’t want to leave you thinking that we’re a perfect property management company and that we never deal with issues. We do. But the characterization that we don’t do our job well is really inaccurate,” he said.


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