Mill Street building collapse: City Councilors seek information on response, lessons learned, what happens next

·3 min read
Pond View Apartment Homes, 267 Mill St., Worcester.
Pond View Apartment Homes, 267 Mill St., Worcester.

WORCESTER — City councilors want to spend time at their Tuesday meeting talking about the July 15 partial collapse of a Mill Street apartment building that left residents of 32 units looking for new places to live.

A roofing job at a building in Pond View Apartment Homes led to construction materials falling through the roof, weakening the building and forcing the evacuation of residents, Franklin-based Fren Management Company Inc. and the property's owners, Michelle and Bechara "Bash" Fren, that morning.

More: Some tenants of damaged Mill Street building, management gain agreements in Housing Court

Those residents later encountered difficulties in retrieving their belongings at 267 Mill St., prompting the building's owners to take the tenants to housing court in order to be granted approval on a timetable to get items out of their units.

District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj has asked that the city manager to produce a report, "concerning the emergency response protocol when a building is condemned, as a result of natural disaster, fire, or construction ..."

Haxhiaj, in bringing up the matter, said she wants to know who is responsible for communicating with residents impacted in such situations and whose job it is to bring the concerns and needs of residents to the city manager’s office, other departments and local elected officials.

City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj
City Councilor Etel Haxhiaj

She has said that city officials might need to have more policies in place to establish accountability when crises occur, and she wants more information about which state agencies might investigate incidents like the collapse and who would leverage fines, penalties and liens on the property owners.

More: City inspectors: Most of Mill Street apartment building safe for displaced tenants to enter

Haxhiaj's request comes on the heels of a similar order from Councilor-at-Large Khrystian King, who, days after the collapse, requested a report, "detailing the 267 Mill St. building collapse, including information concerning what went wrong at the property, what can be learned from the collapse, the inspection process for the building and efforts being made by the landlord, tenants, private sector and public sector to help the situation."

King also asked that the city manager provide information regarding the condition of other properties owned by landlord.

Increase city's housing supply

Councilor-at-Large Kate Toomey said she wants to address ways to increase the city's housing stock, which might make it less difficult for those impacted by fires or incidents like the building collapse to find new homes.

Toomey said she would like the city manager to, "develop zoning regulations that enable the use of new types of housing, such as tiny homes, congregate type living spaces, supportive group housing developments, container housing and accessory dwelling units."

Councilor-at-Large Kate Toomey
Councilor-at-Large Kate Toomey

Doing so would assist in increasing the city's housing stock, she wrote in her request.

She said she also wants the city manager to work with local lenders and businesses to expand the Buy Worcester Now program and to encourage developers to provide entry-level condominiums to expand homeownership options in the city.

Toomey wrote that the city manager should also, "establish regulations, economic incentives and zone changes that enable local public agencies to purchase underused properties to transform into housing."

Also on the agenda for the 6 p.m. meeting in the Esther Howland (South) Chamber is a request from David Slatkin and four other Worcester residents seeking information about how the city responds to requests for public records.

Slatkin requested in-writing documentation as to how many public records requests have been filed, how many of the requests were denied and why, how many times the city has been forced to go to court to fight the release of records and the cost of those court battles.

He also requested, "a statistical list of every open records request within the city that includes a date indicating when it was filed and if the city had responded within the timeframe to the request stipulated by state law as well as for requests which have been closed in the past five (5) years."

Slatkin said he often makes public records requests and finds the response takes longer than is allowed by law.

Contact Kim Ring at kim.mongeau-ring@telegram.com. Follow her on Twitter @KimRingTG

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Mill Street building collapse: Worcester City Councilors seek more information, answers for future