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‘Mommy, the tub’s about to explode’: Feces in bathtub latest indignity at Camden apartments

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Janella Pascal is moving out of Crestbury Apartments. She has complained about sewage bubbling up in the courtyard near her unit, but 'they don't do anything.' (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Janella Pascal is moving out of Crestbury Apartments. She has complained about sewage bubbling up in the courtyard near her unit, but 'they don't do anything.' (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Carranna Freeman noticed last Friday that her bathtub was clogging, so she called the maintenance team at Camden’s Crestbury Apartments.

No one came. The next day, her 4-year-old son got her attention: “Mommy, the tub’s about to explode!”

“I got up to see what he was talking about,” Freeman recalled, “and there was poop coming out of my drain. It came out like diarrhea and there was like little turds and everything.”

Maintenance workers eventually dealt with the situation, but the experience left Freeman distrustful of the water in her own home. Now, she and her son shower at relatives’ homes, eat take-out or TV dinners and brush their teeth with bottled water — all while hoping they can find a new place to live.

“We shouldn’t have to live like this,” Freeman said, noting her bathroom and kitchen sinks had filled up with sewer water a year prior. “We shouldn’t even have to go another week like this. This is very disgusting and it’s very sickening.”

Carranna Freeman’s tub at the Crestbury Apartments in Camden filled with brown water and fecal matter on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 8. (Photo provided)

In a statement, a spokesman for Crestbury Apartments apologized to Freeman and said management worked to have the backup fixed “within hours” of learning of it.

“We sincerely apologize for the discomfort that this caused,” the spokesman, Nathan Miller, said. “We have invested significant funds to implement renovations, including addressing the plumbing, and are in the process of continuing to make considerable upgrades to the property.”

Residents, though, are skeptical of such talk. Crestbury Apartments, an aging 392-unit affordable housing development in South Camden, has garnered headlines in recent months for subjecting its residents to a series of indignities.

Last winter, a “billing snafu” with Waste Management halted garbage collection for days and caused trash to pile up throughout the complex until visiting television crews drew the attention of apartment management and Camden officials.

Last month, raw sewage leaked onto walkways and into courtyards, leaving the whole place reeking of feces.

“You walk outside in your courtyard and there’s sewage just lingering on the walkway, in our grass,” Janella Pascal, an affected resident, described Monday. “It’s just coming up like puddles, puddles of it, with feces and everything just floating in it. Toilet paper.”

Pascal was so disgusted by that problem — and a history battling mold, mice, roaches and water leakage inside her unit — that she said she’s giving up rent at Crestbury, which is less than $200 a month, to move to a far less affordable apartment elsewhere in Camden.

“I feel as though that they do it because we’re low-income residents,” she said of management. “There’s a lot of us that work, a lot of us that work, and a lot of us that try to use this situation to try to get out to something better. And they just treat us like nothing.”

A Camden city representative declined to comment on the situation at Crestbury Apartments, citing “pending litigation” brought by the city. He declined to elaborate.

Crestbury Apartments in Camden is made up of hundreds of affordable housing units. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ownership of the property may change soon. New York-based real estate company Lincoln Avenue Capital, which bought the property for a reported $34 million in 2017, is in the process of selling it to another New York-based firm, Hudson Valley Property Group.

Andy Cavaluzzi, a spokesman for Hudson Valley Property Group, said in an email Monday that the company has created a $24 million renovation plan “to fully rehabilitate Crestbury Apartments,” including new kitchens and baths, ventilation upgrades, security improvements, new landscaped areas and “underground drainage repairs with the replacement of the sewer pump.”

“Meetings with the residents will occur closer to the closing, which is planned for later this year,” Cavaluzzi said.

The company has applied for a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with Camden, which the city council gave its first of two needed approvals last month. Final approval could come as soon as Tuesday.

But residents like Freeman don’t know what to do until the situation improves — if it ever does.

“I’m scared to use their water. I’m scared for me and my son’s life,” she said. “I’m not exaggerating. I’m worrying about our health.”

Carranna Freeman sits on the tub at Crestbury Apartments. Two days earlier, a sewage backup caused the tub to fill with brown water and feces. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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