PLAINFIELD, New Jersey — Tenants rushed Fridaythis week in Plainfield, New Jersey.
Families had three days to leave.
Plainfield firefighters went door-to-door on Friday to make sure every apartment at 501 W. Seventh St. was empty. Families dragged their belongings from the shell of a building as crews boarded up the windows.
The city deemed all 49 apartments there unlivable on Tuesday. Many have crumbling ceilings, rotting walls and broken septic tanks, but when the front doors were chained and locked indefinitely, Carmen Alvarado bid farewell to his family’s home.
“I’ve lived here for 17 years,” he says.
His five children painted their hands on the kitchen wall as they grew through the years.
Wanting them to feel comfortable, Alvarado spent $8,000 on repairs that he said the landlord ignored.
“We have a lot of memories in our apartment,” says Alvarado’s daughter Elida Tista.
They said their family of seven will sleep in Alvarado’s brother’s apartment.
Check out Elijah Westbrook’s report
Tenants have been complaining about the conditions for some time.
“Everyone has contacted them many times, but we have not received a response,” said Stephanie Blanco.
Blanco said that when the landlord answers, he says someone will come and fix the problems, but no one ever shows up.
“There are a lot of people who really have nowhere to go, and a lot of people are trapped. They don’t have money, so it’s a difficult situation,” she said. “It’s unfair. No one knew this was going to happen, so of course no one had a plan. I feel like the city of Plainfield should have known, at least should have had a plan for all of us.”
Five state inspectors showed up Friday to check the inside of a neighboring building also operated by the same management company. Residents said they feared they could be next to move.
“They told us they couldn’t tell us anything, but they said we’d let you know what happens,” said Yesenia Leal. “Many of us have lived here for a very long time.”
The city said they are awaiting the results of that inspection. For now, city officials say there are no plans to vacate that building.
Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said earlier this week that state inspectors found more than 200 violations last summer, but we dug the inspection records and found that the 235 violations actually date back to 2021. The mayor says the violations have never been addressed, claiming that the city did not learn about the issues until a tenant complained.
In a statement, the building’s owners told CBS New York, “We are committed to returning our tenants to their homes as quickly, safely and responsibly as possible.”
The owners said theythey took care of the maintenance. According to the city, the owners also own three other buildings that were recently deemed unlivable.
As the school year approaches, some families worry that their children will be put at a disadvantage by the setbacks of the ordeal.
“We have no plans, because what are we going to do?” said one in Spanish. “If we don’t have a place to live, then we don’t have a school, because they have to prove their address and everything to be admitted to school.”
They said the city has offered to pay for a minimum of four nights at a local hotel and up to two months of storage. A spokesman for Governor Phil Murphy said his office is also trying to help families find shelter.
When CBS New York began asking why violations weren’t addressed sooner, a New Jersey state spokesperson pointed to “a backlog of inspections and re-inspections” for Bureau of Housing Inspection during the pandemic, as well as “numerous access issues.”
That spokesperson said inspectors re-inspected the property Friday to see if those 2021 violations were ever fixed.
In a statement, the spokesperson said: “[The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs] is working with the city and Union County to help the displaced. Our beneficiaries are on site providing case management and collecting information from families, with the first priority being to identify displaced persons and their needs. We are also polling our Section 8 landlords in Plainfield and Union County to find vacant housing units that can house displaced persons.”
Check out Tim McNicholas’ report
“I think the local municipality should be notified, notified,” Mayor Mapp said. “I think it can be prevented through closer partnership and cooperation between the state and the local municipality.”
The City of Plainfield has announced plans for a declaration of emergency to allow them to turn part of Plainfield High School into a shelter for a week while the building’s owners begin repairs.
Ricardo Perez, who says his apartment is fine, says he’s considering taking his wife and five kids to high school. As a father, he says, it was very painful to watch his children get pushed out and join him in looking for a place to stay.
In an interview with CBS New York on Friday, the mayor said he will hold the landlords accountable.
“We need to recover any costs we incur as a result of this conviction because we need to provide housing for people and other resources, so we will pursue civil penalties,” Mapp said.
We’re still awaiting the results of that Friday morning state inspection.
CBS New York has asked landlords if and when they will pay back this month’s rent, but they have not responded.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs says it is willing to provide $1.5 million in temporary housing assistance for those displaced. According to the DCA, the money will come from federal and state homelessness diversion funds and can be used for temporary rent assistance, security deposits, relocation assistance, case management and other needs.
“We can continue to place hotel, rental assistance, rental security or shelter placement,” said Basheba Stevens, a DCA specialist with the Bridges Outreach Project.
For more information on the DCA, visit nj.gov/dca.