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Manchester panel would take on evaluating condition of city rentals


MANCHESTER — A special commission may soon be empaneled to study the deteriorating quality of rental apartments in the city.

On Monday, the Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic recommended that the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen form the commission and instruct it to redesign changes to city housing codes and take other steps to improve rental properties in the city.

The vote is in reaction to a report, issued in May by the Granite State Organizing Project, which said that lead exposure, pests, malfunctioning smoke detectors and other problems exist in hundreds of Manchester apartments.

The committee recommendation also comes after several weeks of attention to tenants of an abandoned apartment building at 405 Manchester St. City inspectors initially deemed the building unsafe for habitation.

But they later backed away from that designation. Tenants have since pooled their money, started payments on a past-due water bill and hope to remain in their building.

“We’re seeing more of these, more people living in places that don’t have water, don’t have heat,” said Alderman Pat Long, who pushed for the commission. “The longer I’m here, it seems more buildings are in question.”

Meanwhile, a resident at 405 Manchester St. said Monday that he’s been unable to install replacement plumbing in the structure, which had its copper piping stolen after Water Works shut off water service last month.

Rick Bernier had hoped to get water restored over the weekend.

“There’s just more to it than anybody thought,” Bernier said. “It’s a fiasco getting where we need to be.”

He said a plumber volunteered to help, and he hopes to install flexible plastic piping, rather than copper.

“It’ll be another day or two,” he said.

Long said the commission should include property owners, landlords, tenants, community members, and advocates appointed by aldermen. He said the proposal will go to aldermen in two weeks for approval.

The Planning and Community Development Department has been cool to several recommendations made by the Granite State Organizing Project.

On Monday, Commissioner Leon LaFreniere said a city-run lead inspection program could cost $200,000 a year once it starts operating.

“My concern is the 24 children poisoned in 2012,” Long said.

mhayward@unionleader.com