Water Break on Harrison Avenue Was More Severe than Reported: Residents Still Frustrated More than a Week Later

The fallout from the massive water break on Harrison Avenue in the SoWa area on April 14 proved to be much larger and more destructive for residents than commonly reported, with nearly 300 people displaced for more than a week from two large residential buildings.

Though they understood a pandemic was raging, some of those displaced residents were left feeling that their emergency wasn’t getting the attention it should.

It was commonly reported that 30 people were impacted, but City officials and Ken Smith, president of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA), said it was much more than that.

“They kept reporting it was 30 people,” he said late last week. “No, our entire 98 units at Laconia Lofts were displaced and that’s about 150 people. The GTI building was more than 100 people. You had easily 250 or 300 people who are displaced and continue to be displaced. We’re being told more than a week because our electricity is gone.”

Smith said they have needed to get a generator for their place, but hadn’t been able to make that happen as late as last weekend.

“There’s a little bit of an inequity going on here,” Smith said. “We’re all still displaced because there’s no power in the building. We need a generator. We appreciate everything the City is doing a Faisa as well, but it doesn’t feel we have a concerted effort from City Hall – the mayor and City Council…This was a major flood caused by a City water main.”

Smith said that Mayoral Liaison Faisa Sharif had been on the scene and had been helpful, and Councilor Ed Flynn responded and helped neighbors, but few others responded to their cries for help.

City officials said Neighborhood Services representatives were on scene during the flooding event on April 14 around 10:30. They gave owners, residents and management accommodation plans and confirmed the AC Hotel at Ink Block would be able to provide rooms.

“Due to the significant electrical damage, the management companies are expecting at least another week or so before residents can return to the units,” said City officials. “The management companies were also provided with contact info for the Office of Housing Stability, and were asked to share this with any residents who need help finding accommodations.”

Smith said one particular event on the night of the flooding left many neighbors upset. While the AC Hotel tried to check everyone in that night, they only allowed a few people inside at a time to abide by social distancing regulations. Everyone else waited outside. That attracted the ire of some sort of inspector who was trying to enforce social distancing measures and, apparently, gave the hotel a hard time for hosting a large event.

“They were more concerned about catching the hotel doing something wrong than helping all of the residents who were stranded and displaced and waiting outside,” he said. “The optics weren’t good.” City officials said they did not send inspectors to the AC Hotel that night, so they said it wasn’t one of their employees. They did say the state had inspectors out in Boston doing random inspections of hotels since the governor ordered lodging establishments only to house people for essential reasons. So, it might have been a state inspector that was encountered, they said.

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