‘We’re afraid the building is going to collapse’ – Malden residents can’t get through to housing management, form coalition


Photo: Sophia Paffenroth

Protesters hold a sign, courtesy of City Life, that demands rent control. In addition to the unhealthy, unclean and undignified living conditions, residents and supporters were also protesting unaffordable rent increases and no-fault evictions.

Sophia Paffenroth, Assistant Editor


Rhina Sorto, who has been filing complaints to Carabetta Management for months about mold, flooding and rodent infestation, was joined in a protest yesterday by other Malden Towers residents, as well as tenant advocates showing solidarity. 

Gathered in the parking lot of Malden Towers apartment complex at 99 Florence St., those present witnessed three Malden tenant associations come together. The event, which started at noon, was organized by the City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) housing nonprofit. The nonprofit brought together the Malden Towers Tenant Association, the United Properties Tenant Association and the Maplewood Square Tenant Association into a coalition with one mission: dignified housing.

Sorto has a long list of grievances that began the day she moved in. She, alongside other residents, still has not received the parking space she’s been paying for since day one. When she brought it up to management, Sorto says they demanded she pays more to get the space she was promised on signing.

Rhina Sorto (speaking) holds a folder full of doctor’s notes and tests. She and her son both developed pneumonia from the mold and the heating system inside her Malden Towers apartment. Carabetta Management has not addressed any of the issues that Sorto and other residents have complained about for months. (Photo: Sophia Paffenroth)

Since then, the problems have only gotten worse. There have been leaks, mold, rats and cockroaches. When she and her family started using the heating system, Sorto said, “I started to cough, I started to have issues with my lungs, and then I developed pneumonia.”

In part, Sunday’s rally was inspired by the recent hospitalization of Sorto’s 12-year-old son, who also developed pneumonia. Sorto says the symptoms have gotten better since she went to Walmart and purchased filters for the heaters. But, she says, it’s money out of her own pockets, and it should never have become a problem in the first place.

As for the mold, management has done nothing except paint over it. “My mom came here to help me with my kids,” Sorto said, “and I didn’t notice there was mold, so I put her bed next to that wall and put some pillows there, and when I moved the pillows, they were black with mold.” 

In addition to the health and sanity issues in the building, Sorto says she also lives in constant fear of a major catastrophe. “I’m afraid that this building will collapse one day,” she said, after showing onlookers a video of a crack in apartment 506 that spanned nearly the entire length of her neighbor’s living room.

Alessandra Candini, another resident who has lived in the complex for 10 months now, says that the last tenant to live in apartment 506 “just moved out …she was afraid of building collapse.” Candini says her former neighbor only wanted to replace the carpeting but moved last week when she saw the pervasive crack. Candini also says she’s seen cracks in the parking garage columns, and sometimes she and her neighbors feel the building shaking. 


Courtesy of Alessandra Candini

There is no administration, security, or anyone to turn to, according to Candini. “There are many people still living here after one year, waiting for a new refrigerator or stove because theirs doesn’t work.”

Not only does management take an unreasonable amount of time to respond to emails, calls and requests – even emergency ones – but when they do show up, says Candini, it’s without notice. “One day, I was sleeping, and the guy just entered my apartment. It’s like they don’t care. They just do whatever they want.” 

Supporters of these coalitions remain hopeful that change is possible with time and persistent effort. “We see a lot of successes in tenant associations that take on this fight long-term,” said Gabriela Cartagena, CLVU’s co-director of communications. But many of those suffering these conditions are low-income, working parents who have neither time nor energy to invest in continuously fighting these battles. 

One of the strengths of groups like City Life is organizing disparate efforts in a city. Cartagena says that “these tenants have been having problems for decades, but it wasn’t until recently, maybe two years ago, that the Malden Towers Tenant Association started to organize together when they reached out to the City Life Hotline.” 

Alessandra Candini stands in the parking lot of the Malden Towers apartment complex. Candini, whose lease is up in two months, says if the these problems are not addressed before then, she will need to move out. (Photo: Sophia Paffenroth)

City Life started a housing hotline in English and Spanish at the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020. According to Cartagena, the hotline is a direct connection between people facing unaffordable rent increases, no-fault evictions or undignified conditions, and those who can help sort through the legal jargon of contracts, provide support and connect residents with resources. 

“We are ready to support anyone who is facing an eviction threat, life-threatening bad conditions, and anyone who wants to organize their building so they can fight against rent increases and/or other demands like collective negotiated contracts and agreements,” Cartagena added. This past year, City Life helped the United Properties Tenants Association win a collective bargaining agreement for families in three buildings in Malden with affordable rent increases for five years.

Though it may seem like a small step, Cartagena said that “by winning a collective bargaining agreement for even one building, or by being at a protest like the one today, we inspire more people to understand that they also have tenant rights and they have the power to also fight to make sure that they’re living in dignified conditions.” 



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