Back in November, a water pipe broke at North Main Manor. It's an apartment high-rise near the heart of downtown Rockford. It's also a public housing unit under the Rockford Housing Authority. It's unclear why the pipe burst but it left residents waiting until late February to get back to normal.
"I believe the failure to get that water off created more damage than should have been occurring," said resident Sam Clark. "I think they could have prevented damage if they just turned the water off and they didn't for three hours."
Official incident reports put the break at 4:00 a.m. but logs of calls made by residents show the break happened almost an hour earlier. By 3:15 a.m., water had already flooded the apartment one floor down from where the break occurred.
Maintenance teams took out kitchen cabinets and opened up walls to dry them out.
In the following months, some residents said they were concerned about mold, lead paint exposure, and electrical failure. Some were given a shelf to make up for lost storage space. In Norma Harper's apartment, packaged food was stored on the floor. Harper is disabled. She's been treated for a hip contusion that she says came from falling off replacement furniture in her apartment put there after the flooding.
"I've never lived like this in my life," said Harper. "Never."
Karen Ruland also lives at the Manor. She said she's not surprised at the response to the water main break. Ruland says she'd like to see tangible examples that resident concerns are being heard.
"North Main Manor is last man on the totem pole," she said.
Repairs have taken place within the course of WNIJ’s reporting.
The months-long delay before final repairs results from RHA wanting to do things right the first time, according to Owen Carter, Director of Housing Operations at RHA. He said it's unfortunate to hear the residents' concerns.
"We know that issues happen, whether that's, you know, this issue or the next issue or a former issue -- We always are engaged and responsive to our tenants and their needs," Carter said.
He said RHA waited because of backlogged orders and having to dry out the walls completely. Carter said time discrepancy between the call log and incident reports is something he'll look into.
"And we said, you know, 'Hey, we wish things could have happened quicker sooner, we all do.' But if we had that magic wand to fix it, we would have. But we had to do it the appropriate way, the right way," he said.
Carter said there's a lack of communication between tenants and RHA.
"I don't know how to fix that, I don't know how to create, you know, something to change that. Is it disheartening? Yeah," he said. "But it didn't start and nor will it end with Rockford Housing Authority."
After repairs, Clark said some residents still feel like property protection is more important than residents. He says questions remain about damages, management, and the risk of bed bugs attracted by water.
"They're done with the work they're going to do," Clark said. "But like the initial failure, it wasn't the work that was the failure. It's their communication with us and understanding what we, the residents, really needed."
The coming years might look financially leaner for housing authorities around the county. The federal budget cut billions to Housing and Urban Development programs this year. Similar cuts are proposed for 2020.
Bob Palmer is a policy director with a group advocating for safe and quality housing in Illinois.
"Thankfully, Congress has generally provided the funds so people can always maintain their housing, but they've done kind of a woefully inadequate job on funding the longer term needs to ensure that public housing is being rehabbed. And so that it's kept in good physical condition," said Palmer.
He said housing systems can be a reflection of the surrounding community.
"People are in a much better position to succeed in education and employment and being a good neighbor if they have some place stable to live," said Palmer.
North Main Manor is one of at least nine properties owned by RHA.
Carter said RHA is focusing attention on relocating residents at Brewington Oaks to prepare for demolition of the apartments.