UTICA — City and county officials closed portions of the fourth floor of the Olbiston Apartments on Genesee Street this week following a recent inspection of the building.
The fifth, sixth and seventh floors were already closed due to leaking from the roof and concerns about unsafe conditions, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said.
“The collaboration that we have at this point has been remarkable with the community coming together, not only county officials and public entities, but some private also,” Palmieri said. “It’s amazing because it’s what our community is all about. I think everybody understands how concerned people are for the well-being and that everybody lives in a clean environment.”
The city also called in the New York State Department of Labor as well as the Oneida County Public Health Department for potential asbestos and lead contamination in the hallways due to the deterioration of the building.
Palmieri said the samples have already been taken and they hope to have results by the middle of next week. The last time samples were taken for asbestos and lead was in 2017, Palmieri said.
In the meantime, the city and county have been working together to try to offer the residents of the building as many options to move as possible. Reportedly there are about 110 people residing in the building at this time, though it is unclear if that number is accurate.
On Friday, Oneida County’s mobile social services van was parked outside of the building, which is at 1431 Genesee St., offering residents a place to talk about options for moving out.
The van is expected to be outside offering the same services Monday and Tuesday, at least, according to Director of Oneida County Emergency Services Kevin Revere.
The building manager has been accommodating to county officials trying to help out the residents, he said, but there isn’t a place to set up inside the building to help people, so the mobile unit has been set up.
He said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. has directed county officials to help with the situation as much as possible.
“The county and city are working shoulder to shoulder to assist in any way possible at the direction of the county executive and the mayor,” Revere said. “Our No. 1 concern in that building is the people in that building. … We’re keeping an eye on the weather and as much as we can on who wants to move or who has to move and we’ll help as much as we can.”
In light of National Grid having to turn off the power to the building this week, city and county officials are on high alert and making potential emergency plans for the residents of the building should it happen again, Palmieri said.
But officials hope the residents will opt to take a more long-term solution and find a new apartment that doesn’t pose a risk to their health.
According to city officials, the city has about five available units around the city that Section 8 recipients could move into, if they qualify and wish to move.
The Municipal Housing Authority has another roughly 17 units available for residents who want to move and qualify for the housing. Other landlords throughout the city also have reached out to the city to offer housing options to residents of the building who wish to move out of the Olbiston.
The current owner of the building is Rizaro Utica LLC, a New York City-based company, which purchased the building in 2010 for $777,000. According to court documents filed by the city in a pending case in the New York State Supreme Court in Oneida County, the owner originally planned to purchase the building, do some minor repairs and then sell it again.
The Observer-Dispatch has been unable to get in contact with anyone from Rizaro Utica.
The last decision in the case was that the owner of the building has until November this year to do repairs to the roof, stairs and other structural parts of the building.