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13 Investigates: RHA residents speak out following water main break at North Main Manor

ROCKFORD (WREX) – Eight days ago, 13 Investigates was contacted by a resident living at North Main Manor about a water main break that happened on Nov. 18.

As of Nov. 29, repairs to the units impacted by the break are still ongoing and residents 13 Investigates spoke with say they are upset with how the response to the clean up was handled by the Rockford Housing Authority.

Willie Taper lives on the eighth floor where the break happened. He says it happened around 3 a.m. when he woke up to a big surprise.

“I was asleep, I’m hearing water,” Taper said. “I stepped out of my bed and there were at least 2 inches of water by my bedroom.”

Willie says he immediately dialed the emergency number for RHA housing and didn’t get a response, but also called the fire department.  He says when the fire department arrived, they located the break but said it was RHA’s decision to turn the water off, not theirs.

“There’s a break in the wall, there’s no danger to life we see at this point, we’ve got another emergency call, we’re going to leave,” says resident Sam Clark.

That’s when RHA says maintenance arrived.

“It’s my understanding it all started around 4:15 that Sunday morning,” says RHA CEO Laura Snyder.

That’s a time that residents refute.

“When I met with them [fire department] it was 3:10, 3:15. I’m sure of the time,” Clar said.

Despite the agreement over time, the maintenance worker who arrived did not have the ability to turn off the water.

“Our on-call guy was there in just a few minutes and did not have the experience in the building to know where the water main shutoff was,” Snyder said. “He then called the foreman who came in and turned it off. I will say it took a good hour, hour and a half to get it turned off.”

While both sides debate the time it took for the water to be shut off, residents say the water was flowing into their homes for hours.

“It was nearly 3 and a half hours and the water was still running,” Taper said.

“From 3:20 until about 5:30, 6 o’clock this water is still running,” Clark echoed.

And residents say all that water was devastating.

“I lost my mattress, my bed got messed up, I’m literally sleeping in my chair now,” Taper said.

“I’m on a fixed income and I don’t have money to throw away on stuff and not get it back,” says resident Sheila Barnette.

“Most of us have very little,” Clark said. “Losing a lot of the very little is very hard to recover from.”

“I just bought a mattress and a whole bed that was $1,500 and I’m still paying it, and it’s destroyed,” another resident told 13 Investigates.

RHA says these losses are unfortunate, but stresses renter’s insurance is key to recuperating losses.

“This goes back to why we reiterate at lease signing we try to instill in our folks that renters insurance is a necessity because our insurance only covers our property unfortunately,” Snyder said.  “That’s the case with any real estate or landlord.”

But residents say that’s just one more thing they can’t afford when they move in.

“You come into the building with a mattress and box spring on the floor, a few blankets and the clothes you’re carrying and then they suggest renter’s insurance. No. Not appealing to many,” Clark said.

Snyder says the comfort and safety of residents comes first. She says the day after the flood, staff and plumbers went to all the impacted units to assess the situation, and in this case moving residents to a new unit wasn’t necessary.

“If they would have deemed it a potential for mold build up because of the amount of water we would have notified any and all residents a move was necessary.”

But Clark, who lives on floor below Taper, says after days of dealing with the aftermath, Willie felt he could no longer stay in that unit.

“He’s got that mildew material in his place, he’s got the other damage to the apartment. As far as he’s concerned

He can’t live there and he’s getting no assistance to live there,” says Clark. “So he left. I don’t know how long, I don’t if he plans on returning.”

Ten days after the flood, Clark says the floor boards were ripped out and holes were put into walls to alleviate the moisture.  RHA says each unit was impacted differently so a timetable to get everything back to normal is up in the air.

“Right now it’s my understanding we’re still drying out those walls,” Snyder says. “Our plumbers had to knock holes in the wall to access those lines our remediation team has fans and heaters there to dry the walls out.”

At the end of the day, Clark says he and other residents felt RHA was more concerned about their property than the people.

“I didn’t feel protected. I didn’t feel protected at all,” says Clark. “That’s what hindsight says to me.”

“Our first and foremost concern is our resident safety and health, we can replace property. We can’t replace people,” Snyder said. “Their safety is number one to us.”

“You keep telling us in your mission statement that we are your product and you want to take care of us,” say Clark. “That’s not the demonstration you had on this weekend.”

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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