By Christina Hager

HOLBROOK (CBS) – Whenever it rains, Diane Hammond gets a drip in her kitchen. “Right here, you can see,” she said, pointing to a stain on her ceiling. “You could see the water running down, and I put a bucket up.”

Overhead, a blanket of blue tarps covers her roof and others at the Holbrook Housing Authority’s public housing complex for senior citizens. Residents say some tarps are up for a third winter straight. As a result, they say, some residents have mold on their ceilings, as does the community room everyone shares. Residents say they never imagined living out their golden years in conditions like these.

Diane Hammond points to a leak in her ceiling. (WBZ-TV)

Since the I-Team started looking into it, the Holbrook Housing Authority got emergency funding to finally fix some roofs. But residents say there’s a long list of problems. “What we would like to see here is a fire escape,” said one tenant, pointing to a building full of apartments. “There’s only one way out if there’s a fire.”

One man showed us a hole in his elderly mother’s balcony floor after his foot broke through. It’s been patched with a piece of wood. Residents say poor drainage when it rains causes the balconies to rot. Another resident showed hers blocked off with yellow caution tape.

Holbrook Housing Authority complex roofs covered by tarps (WBZ-TV)

There’s a new heating system, but, “I have to put my heat up to almost 90 before I get any heat in there,” said Tom Carlo, a Navy veteran who’s done multiple tours in the Middle East. “I’ve been three-quarters the way around the world. I’ve seen conditions actually worse than this.” But after all that, he said he never envisioned his retirement like this.

The I-Team obtained state inspection records showing a history of small problems piling up. There have been missing cabinet doors, ripped-up floor tiles, leaky pipes covered with mildew and more. One woman shared photos of a hole in her wall with mouse droppings on the floor from when she moved in. She said problems extend to the outside, too. “This street light here’s been out for two years.”

Mold on ceiling of Holbrook Housing Authority unit (WBZ-TV)

No one from the Holbrook Housing Authority would answer questions on camera, but in an email, the executive director of the complex confirmed one reason fixes take so long is a lack of funding. “As is the case at many other local housing authorities, our buildings are aging and in need of capital repairs,” said a statement from the chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Holbrook Housing Authority. “We fully recognize that all necessary steps must be taken to protect our structures from water damage, and we will continue to work with our partners at DHCD (Department of Housing and Community of Development) to ensure that this work is completed expeditiously and successfully.”

Advocates say it’s a common problem with elderly housing. “Just because someone needs subsidized housing, they should not have to settle for substandard housing,” said Carolyn Villers, who heads up the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. She said housing authorities across the state face similar issues.

“The lack of funding, particularly from the federal level, has created a challenge,” she said. “We need to make a commitment that we support quality and safe healthy housing.”

Christina Hager


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