By Ron O’Clair
Morris “Moe” Bergman, Worcester City Councilor at-Large-elect, made a campaign promise: To increase the eviction laws to help property owners speedily evict troublesome tenants who are involved in illegal or detrimental activities as indicated by the following statement that comes right off of his campaign mailer to voters. Here it is, and I quote: “Moe Bergman wants to expand existing nuisance eviction laws to help residents, police and property owners to quickly and permanently remove from neighborhoods individuals committing gun/gang/drug related crimes.”
A recent experience that I had with a couple that I shall refer to as “Fred & Wilma” along with numerous other incidents over the years that I have been the building and property superintendent of 703 – 711 Main Street makes that pledge stand out as particularly pertinent to the rooming house I manage as part of the property that I am the responsible party for.
When a vacancy occurs in the rooming house, it is part of my duties as the building superintendent to prepare the room for rental, accept applications from potential tenants, and interview those tenants to see if they will be an asset or a detriment to the tenants that are already housed within the building. It has been my experience over the years that drugs and alcohol usage and abuse are the primary factors that destroy the peace, serenity, and safety of the building.
With that in mind, the owner, Julio Romero and I publicly posted our intention to make the rooming house a clean & sober living environment at the height of the insanity some years back. I had several tenants at that time involved in illicit activities that made living here almost intolerable, and even though we went through the legal process of eviction of these longstanding tenants, they refused to leave causing us further anguish and expense with unpaid rents accumulating to unrealistic amounts.
This was due to the fact that if a tenant that has established a tenancy, (which takes longer than a week by the way) loses the case in Housing Court for non-payment and is ordered by the Housing Court to leave by a certain date and fails to do so, the owner has no legal recourse other than to have the Sheriffs Constables carry out the eviction by force, with a moving company being paid to store the deadbeats possessions for three months at the landlords expense.
This process is very expensive and the landlord not only loses the back rent, they are on the hook for a considerable sum of money to carry out the eviction. When he went through that in 2003 with a tenant who owed a lot of money and was running a drug store out of the rear parking lot window, it cost Julio $2,500.00 more to remove the tenant and even though the rooms are furnished when rented, the moving company took all the furnishings along with the belongings against my objection.
So Julio had the further expense of replacing the furniture.
When Senor Romero took possession of the building from Paul M. Berger in March of 2003, 7 out of the 11 rooms on one side of the rooming house had tenants that were involved in illegal drug sales activity and the place was known as a place to score the drug of choice the buyers were looking for.
There was an all night stream of deadbeats, hookers, crack heads, junkies and thieves parading in and out of the building, using the bathroom facilities reserved for tenant use only to take showers and shoot up in, making it impossible for those that paid rent to use their own bathrooms, or be secure in their possessions due to the frequency of break-ins to the individual rooms while they were out.
In addition to those who were doing and selling drugs, we had others who were severe alcoholics and would cause all sorts of problems while intoxicated beyond belief to the point of being a danger to the other tenants by attempting to cook in an inebriated condition and causing fires when they failed to attend to the task properly.
There were numerous knock down, dragged out fights caused by the drunks becoming violent or mouthy under the influence. They also endangered themselves by falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor, requiring emergency medical services to have to come take them to the hospital. The police were called frequently as a result, taking them away from more important matters.
Julio was beside himself, ruing the day he ever got involved with purchasing the building, and watched as the investment of his life savings was threatened to be taken from him by the City of Worcester like 5 Sycamore Street had been shortly before. In fact many years later, Barbara Haller, former District 4 City Councilor admitted to me that the process had begun, and this building was the next one that the City planned to take in an effort to combat lawlessness in this neighborhood that is adjacent to the then location of the PIP shelter.
Between March and June of 2003, Julio had appointed the statutorily required live in manager 5 different times trying to find someone up to the task of wresting control of the building back from those hell bent on destroying it, and maintaining their lucrative drug sales activities unhampered by interference by the good residents who began fleeing in terror due to all the commotion going on 24/7/365. At the time I had been a tenant since 03 July 1996 and watched as Berger began losing control of the building from that time up to the time he sold it in 2003.
When Berger owned it, the activity went on only at night when Paul closed Berger Army & Navy and went home to Framingham each night. After he sold, the place operated on a 24 hour basis unimpeded by any attempt Julio made to stop the illegal activity. I started to write about what was going on, and sent some of the stories to the Telegram & Gazette, as well as to the then rather newly created InCity Times that Rosalie Tirella started up in protest to the established papers of that time.
I owe Rosalie a great debt of gratitude for letting me sow my oats as a writer through her publication of my early attempts as a journalist and aspiring writer of book length manuscripts. I have grown under her tutelage over the years, and have written some hard hitting stories that brought me some recognition as a writer. Rosalie and I have always been advocates for the less fortunate, and for the ethical treatment of people and animals.
As an alcoholic in recovery myself with 30 plus years in the A.A program, I try to help those that have a problem with alcohol and drugs get the treatment they need to combat the insidiousness of addiction and start the long road to recovery.
That is why when a case manager from the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program (HOAP) run out of the Community Healthlink building located at 162 Chandler Street came to me on the 16th of October with two of the worst of the former PIP shelter clients whom I had had numerous problems with over the years trespassing on the private property I manage here, I consented to give them a trial period based upon verbal assurances from all concerned that they had stopped drinking and that no problems would ensue if I allowed them to take up residence.
I was very skeptical, but the laws do not allow me to discriminate when accepting applications for housing and the rent was guaranteed by the Community Healthlink, Inc. Beneficiary Account program which acts as a payee for people receiving Social Security Disability Income payments, who are not responsible enough to be trusted with their own money, and need to have a payee ensure that it is spent on needed things rather than have it all go to drugs or alcohol.
Julio has three tenants currently who owe a combined total of over $6000.00 in back rent of whom he has taken two to Housing Court already and won eviction, with the third scheduled to go to Housing Court on the 31st of October. Along with the fact that my own nephew Anthony who is an I.V. drug user stole nearly $1,800 from his uncle Ron that was collected rents due the landlord, for the second time since I tried to help him into recovery from drug abuse.
The first time was when I allowed Anthony to move into the building intending to try and help him into recovery on his promise to help me out around the place with renovations in return for the rent, and he was responsible for the theft of other tenants possessions as well as money that I had collected from rents, to the tune of over $2000.00 that time.
The problem was, at the time I had three other suspects that were living here, but could not be sure that it was my own flesh and blood who had committed the thefts. Anthony swore up and down that he would never do that to his uncle Ron, and I halfway believed him. Julio graciously did not fire me and accepted the loss as a cost of doing business in these times here in Worcester where drug and alcohol usage and abuse causes many such thefts throughout the city to support drug habits.
My GMC pick-up was broken into for the second time just recently and the thieves made off with the brand new muffler I had in the backseat that I got from the guy who owns Meineke Muffler on Park Ave for pulling his truck out of a snow bank last winter during one of the many blizzards we had. Along with the muffler went anything else of value that I had in there. And I found a crack whore sleeping on my front seat that I had pulled out by her feet rather than have the police come and fail to arrest her for trespassing and breaking and entering a motor vehicle. In all my calls over the years, only a handful of arrests were made signaling to the criminals that the illegal behaviors could be continued without fear of arrest. A few arrests would have stopped all the unnecessary criminal activity we have had to put up with over the years that I have been here.
Those are the reasons that I reluctantly consented to give “Fred & Wilma” a chance to prove to me that they had changed their M.O. and could be relied upon to honor their verbal agreement not to drink, and to not cause the other tenants any grief. But, having grown wiser over the years of managing the rooming house I protected myself and Julio by not allowing them to establish a tenancy during the trial period. No money was taken during the period they were here, nor any rent receipt given.
When events that transpired during the first of the week by week arrangement that we all had agreed upon proved the unsuitability of “Fred & Wilma” I terminated the arrangement, returned the uncashed check and the few items that were left in the room, and thought that was the end of it.
Donna Domiziano of the Mustard Seed on Piedmont Street here in the city, who advocates for the needy and truly cares about the less fortunate who patronize the free food program also known as the Catholic Worker House, tried to convince me to give “Wilma” a chance to remain all by herself without “Fred” who I had caught causing a disturbance at 9:30 Sunday morning the 20th of October. But I learned that “Wilma” had not only snuck “Fred” back in against the agreement that I had made when Donna showed up at my door to plead the case of letting “Wilma” stay overnight on the 22nd so she could remove her possessions the next day, she had also allowed a visitor against my “No Visitor” policy.
Mark, one of the volunteer’s at the Mustard Seed admitted to me that he had been watching television with “Fred & Wilma” on the television that Donna loaned to them with rabbit ears that he had loaned to the couple. That was before he assaulted me physically after Donna had asked him to help me unload the van of “Fred & Wilma’s” possessions. During the discussions that preceded unloading the van, tempers flared and lots of shouting and verbal abuse was heaped my way by several of the habitué’s of the Mustard Seed who vociferously objected to me not allowing “Fred & Wilma” to stay.
It was while unloading Donnas’ television that I was assaulted my Mark, nearly causing me to drop the television on the ground which would have smashed it to pieces I am sure. I can understand and empathize with those that advocate placement of homeless drug addicts and alcoholics due to concerns of them freezing to death as the weather turns colder, but I can’t allow them to destroy what peace and serenity or safety and security I have managed to achieve here at Romero’s.
At one point I had suggested to Donna that if she was so concerned about them sleeping outside, she should let them sleep inside where the people eat. She did not like that idea.
The supervisor of the case manager that had agreed to the temporary trial period who refused to give me his name upon my request when I returned the draft for the $750.00, threatened me with all sorts of legal actions if I did not reconsider and allow “Fred & Wilma” to return. I don’t think he will be successful seeing as how I never allowed the couple to establish a tenancy.
I can understand that they are staunch advocates for their clients and are trying to place the most difficult cases in housing before the winter weather comes, and a solution must be found to house these people somewhere, but I can’t jeopardize my other tenants with those that can’t follow the rules that are in place that regulate acceptable behavior in the rooming house.
There is apparently a need for a heated space that can be used in the fashion that the old PIP shelter had been where the homeless can crash out on the floor overnight in the sub-zero temperatures that will come with the winter ahead of us. Some of the clients of HOAP are clearly unsuited to live among other people in a rooming house environment.
If anyone has any idea’s to solve this issue, District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera would be a good person to contact to implement them. The new version of the PIP seems to lack the capacity that the old PIP did.