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Somerville

Alderman seeks review of eviction proceedings

City officials are looking into frequent evictions at Clarendon Hill Towers.

Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 1996

City officials are looking into frequent evictions at Clarendon Hill Towers.

The company that manages Clarendon Hill Towers in Somerville initiates as many as 30 eviction proceedings per month and recently agreed to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors, according to court records.

A total of 150 eviction cases, often over rent payments, have been filed by FHRC Management Corp. since 2010 in Somerville District Court, according to records maintained by the Community Action Agency of Somerville. Last week, there were six court appearances scheduled for evictions, including five bench trials.

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City officials in Somerville are calling for an independent review of ongoing issues at the towers.

“When you keep hearing the same thing over and over, you start to think that it’s not just one or two tenants and that something is going on,” said Ward 7 Alderman Robert Trane.

Trane submitted a resolution to the Board of Aldermen to have the city’s Human Rights Commission conduct an investigation into complaints at the towers at 1366 Broadway near Teele Square, where 426 of 501 units are designated affordable. Trane’s resolution was approved without objection by board members May 9.

The same day Trane submitted his resolution, FHRC Management Corp., a subsidiary of First Hartford Realty Corp., agreed to pay a family of five $13,000 to settle a civil lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors in December that alleged the family was unlawfully removed from a housing wait list.

Kadija Houmidi, Noureddini Gharouadi, and their three children were originally told they would be eligible for a two-bedroom apartment at the complex in November 2010. But they were rejected a year later when they became eligible for a unit because FHRC policy allowed for a maximum of four people to live in two-bedroom units, according to court documents. The complaint was filed jointly by Massachusetts US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

The policy on two-bedroom units was stricter than Massachusetts sanitary law standards, was discriminatory toward families, and violated the Fair Housing Act, prosecutors said.

In addition to the financial settlement, FHRC agreed to require staff to take training in fair housing practices from a third party and place posters in their rental office that indicate units are available on a nondiscriminatory basis.

The issues go beyond the housing wait list, according to Trane. He said he has heard complaints from residents at the towers for more than a year, some alleging harassment and discrimination, and many involving eviction proceedings.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s name-calling on both sides, and there’s some really ugly things happening,” he said. “It just keeps getting uglier.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, Clarendon Hill Towers property manager Jill Ouellette declined to comment, citing company policy.

Kenneth Biagioni, president of the Clarendon Hill Towers Tenants Association, said he thinks someone needs to intervene to resolve problems, particularly when it comes to evictions.

“There are issues with the property, and hopefully somebody sees what’s going on and steps in,” he said. “People are afraid to come forward with complaints because of what they see going on.”

Biagioni himself has been the subject of recent eviction attempts, according to Somerville District Court records. On June 10, he was ordered by Judge Paul M. Yee to pay $1,974 in back rent in a civil case filed against him by FHRC last year.

Biagioni, who lives in a subsidized housing unit, said his rent was underestimated by the management group as a result of changes in his unemployment benefits, and that he always paid what he was instructed. He said he thinks the eviction attempt is retribution for bringing attention to complaints from tenants.

“I’ve been here over 10 years; since this place has opened I’ve had family that’s lived here. Now I’m being persecuted,” he said.

According to the ruling against Biagioni, FHRC has been involved in 10 to 30 eviction proceedings per month since April 2010, with some of them getting resolved without going to court.

Trane said the high number of cases filed against people who cannot afford to hire lawyers is putting a strain on local legal services and tenant advocacy groups.

Susan Hegel, a lawyer with Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services , a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people, declined to comment on evictions at Clarendon Hill because of pending cases.

But while the court system is busy with matters involving the towers, complaints of discrimination have rarely been brought to state or city authorities.

The Somerville Human Rights Commission has not conducted any investigations into FHRC, according to Sonja Darai of the city’s office of commissions, but is expected to consider the request to investigate in the coming weeks. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has no records of complaints against the company, either.

Trane said he has heard enough to believe there are issues at the towers that must be addressed.

“Something is going on, and the only way to get to the bottom of this is to have an independent group look at it,” he said.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at Bencks.Globe@gmail.com.
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