Sunday, January 29, 2006

Local Slumlord Goes National

Landlord with Boston ties lashed for Katrina evictions

TERRYTOWN, La. -- Until the eviction notices began to arrive, Solomon Benjamin and Patti Joseph believed they had dodged the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.

Their one-bedroom apartment in this New Orleans suburb, which suffered no flooding or widespread destruction, was unharmed in the storm. Its good condition was verified by a federal inspector who found Joseph ineligible for housing assistance because of ''insufficient damage." Their landlord took a different view, launching an aggressive three-month campaign to remove Benjamin, Joseph, and all remaining tenants from the complex of about 200 units. Former residents believe the ouster took place so the units can be renovated and rented to higher-paying tenants.

"They didn't have to put nobody out," said Benjamin, 65, a retired shipyard painter who had lived in the complex for two years. "They just wanted us out."

"They" are Leonard J. Samia, one of Boston's largest and most notorious landlords, and LES Realty Trust, a Samia partnership that owns Louisburg Square Apartments, a sprawling cluster of low-income, two-story buildings on the west bank of the Mississippi River, 6 miles from the French Quarter.

According to former residents, housing advocates, and legal aid attorneys in Louisiana, Samia took advantage of the chaos that consumed New Orleans after the hurricane -- a lawless time when police, courts, and social service agencies were overwhelmed with emergencies -- to force out tenants. The tenants were among the city's most vulnerable residents, their lawyers said, lacking the money and know-how to fight the eviction pressure they faced.

I can't believe these sleazebags the Samias are still in business. My first apartment out of college was on Glenville Ave. in Allston, rented from the Samia Companies. The place crawled with cockroaches, the ceilings were falling in, and there was no maintenance. You could call for maintenance all you wanted, but it never came. As soon as I had a little money in the bank I moved out.

I always hoped to read that some Housing Court made one of the Samias live in one of their own hellhole apartments, but apparently that never happened.

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