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Are stairs leading to a fall?

Tenants say damaged steps are dangerous

Ruth Stone, Faneuil Gardens resident, on a damaged staircase at 45 Faneuil St. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF)

What do you get when you cross two classic rock songs, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"?

Answer: Stairway to Hell.

In other words, residents say, those crumbled steps leading to and from their apartments at the Faneuil Gardens public housing development in Brighton.

By their count -- and, yes, they have counted -- there are 110 individual steps there that are in need of immediate fixing.

Tenant leaders say that for a year they have been complaining about fragile hallway stairs that include missing tiles, bent metal lips, shaky underpinnings, and at least one rubber stair mat that's as secure as a banana peel.

"It's scary," says longtime tenant Donna Criel , who braces her every ascent and descent by gripping a banister.

Tenant Maurice "Chip" Woods says that several years ago his feet fell through one of the steps, and he had to stay propped on his elbows, legs dangling, for 10 to 15 minutes until he was rescued by a passerby who heard his screams.

"Thankfully," says Woods, 53, "a girl I knew walked by."

The Boston Housing Authority says it has been solidifying the worst steps at the development on an emergency basis, and 10 days ago began a $15,000 project to mend more than 100 fractured stairs there.

An agency official chalked up delays on fortifying the stairways to several factors: determining the scope of work; needing to secure state funding during a budget crunch; putting the job out to bid; and waiting for materials to arrive.

"We're careful in our decision-making process to make sure we're making appropriate repairs in the best and most expeditious way possible," says Lydia Agro , a BHA spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Agro says more than $2 million targeted for a general overhaul of Faneuil stairs, which were frozen under the Romney administration, has recently been unloosed. The BHA says it hopes to begin a major stair replacement there in 10 to 12 months.

But residents say that not only have Housing Authority officials dragged their feet on stair repair, those officials also have trampled on tenants rights' by leaving them in the dark about fix-its.

"The task force is supposed to be involved every step of the way," says Ruth Stone , 55, cochair of the Faneuil Gardens Tenant Organization. "That hasn't happened."

Agro says the agency has done its best to keep tenants in the loop. "The residents have been very proactive," she says. "They deserve credit for their advocacy."

But tenant leaders say they remain confounded about the authority's plans to bolster the stairs.

For instance, while the BHA says it will pay Stone and another tenant leader $10 an hour for 35 hours each to help facilitate the current stair stabilization, Stone says the authority had not provided her an advance work timetable so she could actually earn her money by notifying tenants exactly when the steps would be temporarily out of commission.

In that state of confusion, fleeting rumors about Faneuil's future have begun to solidify into panicky dismay.

Given the 1950 development's proximity to students from Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University, tenant leaders say they worry that the money set aside for rehab will instead be used for a total makeover that will lead to young collegians taking their places.

Their 254 units of low-income housing, they fear, will turn into a mélange of mixed-income apartments, as recently occurred at the BHA's Maverick Landing development in East Boston, and some will be left to find a new home.

"Who knows?" says Criel.

But Agro says there is no substance to the speculation.

"A redevelopment like that for Faneuil is not planned," says Agro, adding that anyone in good standing who wanted to return to Maverick did.

Ana Vega, 61, has lived at Faneuil for 28 years and says she happily raised three children there. Before delivering a homemade meal of chicken, rice, and broccoli to a sick neighbor, Vega says, "I will die here."

She just doesn't want to hasten it by tripping on the stairs.

Ric Kahn can be reached at rkahn@globe.com.

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