Safety of Eastie property unclear
City inspectors are still determining the fate of several evacuated apartment buildings in East Boston on a block shaken by the collapse of a condemned apartment house late last week.
That collapse forced the demolition of an adjacent building that left four families homeless and prompted the city to order residents to leave the apartments at 39-43 and 53 Chelsea St., early Saturday. Engineers could rule as early as today on the condition of those buildings, city officials said.
“The situation is still fluid, and safety is paramount,’’ said William J. Good III, commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, adding that he thought the buildings would be deemed safe for residents to return.
The residents of 45 Chelsea St. were told to evacuate quickly last Tuesday, after it became apparent that the dilapidated building adjoining it at No. 47 was at risk of collapse. They did not have a chance to return before 47 tumbled late Friday, and the building at 45 Chelsea St., unmoored without its neighbor, was torn down two days later.
The violent toppling of the first and the dismantling of the second apartment house appeared to crack at least one of the adjacent buildings, all of which are about 100 years old.
City officials and community leaders said they were planning a fund-raiser for the newly homeless families later this week, while seeking help for those who have been displaced and allowing them to stash belongings in the locked classrooms of an empty elementary school in the neighborhood.
“It’s very heartbreaking to see what happened,’’ Councilor Salvatore LaMattina of East Boston said. “It’s a sad situation, and I want to make sure all the other properties [on the block] are safe.’’
After months of hearings, the city had been in court as recently as Friday trying to compel the owners of 47 and 49 Chelsea, a vacant lot next door, to dismantle 47 in a way that would protect neighboring buildings. But the building collapsed first.
While city-hired contractors from Francesco Demolition worked amid the rubble, and police cordoned off much of the block yesterday, red-eyed residents of the neighboring buildings stood on the sidewalk across Chelsea Street waiting and wondering when they would be allowed to collect clothing or return permanently.
Onlookers and concerned neighbors expressed frustration and anger at the state of the block, at the deliberate speed of the city’s legal effort, and at what they saw as absentee ownership profiting from immigrant tenants. Most of the displaced residents are from El Salvador, said Felix Bezeredy, a neighborhood activist who had called about gas leaks and other issues at or near the properties.
“We called several times, and they said, ‘It’s in court, and there’s nothing we can do,’ ’’ said Dominic Rozzi, who lives across the street.
The buildings on the block adjoin and appear to support each other. The collapsed property and its demolished neighbor were each four-story brick buildings with one apartment per floor. A longer brick row, Nos. 39 to 43, sits immediately to the south; to the north, a vacant lot sat between No. 47 and No. 53, which has three floors of apartments above a hair salon.
Last June, the city issued a violation to the apparent owner of No. 47, Steven Saari, because of the unsafe condition of that building, which by then had become vacant, Good said. The city also issued a violation to the owner of the empty lot next door, at Nos. 49-51, because site work at the lot appeared to disturb the building at No. 47.
“The violations are remedial, not punitive,’’ with housing court action taken whenever violations are not addressed, Good said.
In this case, the owner of the empty lot, Aaron Daigneault of Winthrop, responded by putting up supports that failed to save 47, Good said. Daigneault then arranged to purchase that adjacent property from Saari and demolish the building, with the city and Daigneault agreeing Friday that he would secure the appropriate permit this week, Good said.
“It’s frustrating because of the issues it creates for the tenants,’’ Good said of the collapse and collateral damage that disrupted the proceedings. “It’s frustrating for the safety issues.’’
Daigneault did not return a call for comment. Saari could not be reached. City records list his mailing address at the property, but Good said Saari lives out of state. Saari’s property manager, Saul Perlera of East Boston, said he could not comment.
Records at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds suggest the property has been in foreclosure proceedings for several years, but Good said the city considers Saari the owner.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.