'09 sewer fix cost $1.2M; Taxpayers pay bulk of CDC units' tab.

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Byline: Shaun Sutner

WORCESTER - A decision to include eight basement apartments in an affordable housing complex in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods has ended up costing taxpayers more than $1 million.

In July 2009, raw sewage that flooded into their units forced about 25 low-income residents out of the complex at 9 May St., in the heart of the Main South area.

Last week, workers were digging in the earth behind the building to connect pipe sections to a recently installed main sewer line, finishing up a repair project that has taken two years.

The total cost to fix the problem - which critics say could have been avoided in the first place - and to keep the flooding from happening again, is $1.2 million.

Footing most of the bills for the long-delayed repair are city and state taxpayers, who are splitting $1 million worth of the work. The builder of the 46-unit low-income complex, the Worcester Common Ground community development corporation, is picking up the balance.

Jacqueline Vachon-Jackson, chief of staff of the city's office of economic, neighborhood and community development, said the city essentially had no choice but to shoulder part of the expense of the sewer line replacement because the flooding and sewage problems that erupted in July 2009 had become a public health and humanitarian crisis. Displaced residents had to live in motels for five months.

And, she noted, because the nonprofit developer could not afford the repair, the city and state were obligated to help and also did not want to put their sizable investments in the original $16 million undertaking at risk.

"It was absolutely a stretch for the city to come up with the money, but at the same time there were a lot of people put out of their homes because of the flooding," Ms. Vachon-Jackson said. "It had also become a homelessness issue.

"The challenge with nonprofits is that it is their responsibility but they didn't have the money to pay it, so it became a community responsibility," she continued.

The hefty price tag, city officials and some critics of the affordable housing developer say, is especially frustrating because city officials warned the CDC that the historic former organ factory was in a flood zone and basement units would almost certainly be prone to flooding.

Robert L. Moylan Jr., the city's public works commissioner, says the building met code and there was nothing the city could do to block the inclusion of eight basement units in the complex.

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