Inspection of Springfield church offering sanctuary to undocumented woman finds building habitable

South Congregational Church in Springfield, which is offering sanctuary to an undocumented Peruvian woman and her two American-born children, has passed the minimum requirements for an inspection by the city with only minor violations. 

Mayor Domenic Sarno sent out an email to city officials on March 27 calling for a re-inspection of the church in response to South Congregational offering sanctuary to Gisella Collazo and her two children.

He stated in the email, “Please re-inspect the property in question for illegal housing aspects. Also, please start the review process to strip them of their tax exempt status. Please again pursue to the fullest extent of the law. Thank you and God Bless.”

In his report, Springfield Building Commissioner Steve Desilets said he performed the inspection at 9 a.m. on April 5 alongside Fire Lieutenant Richard Martin and both found the area housing Gisella and her two children to be an old existing housing unit utilized by the church, which includes a full kitchen, bathroom with a shower, sinks, and toilet, as well as two bedrooms and a common living area.

“The unit did pass the inspection for the minimum life safety and sanitary requirements, except for some minor violations that can be quickly fixed, [including] missing window crank hardware, [a] window stuck closed, non code compliant locking device on egress door, [and a] blocked egress door by a table,” Desilets wrote.

In a press release, Sarno responded to the report, stating, “Building Commissioner Steve Desilets and Fire Lieutenant Richard Martin have done their jobs and their report speaks for itself. We just want to be sure that public health and safety issues are being complied with.”

Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer of South Congregational told the Valley Advocate he and other church officials have yet to receive the official report from the city, although he has seen a press release by the city regarding the report, which has been made public by multiple local news outlets.

“We need to see what they are and we’ll figure out what we need to do,” Gerstenlauer said. “We have not seen a report from the city that calls to us to respond in any way.”

He said he doesn’t think Sarno has the ability to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status.

“That’s a matter of how we’re registered with the state of Massachusetts and the United States of America,” Gerstenlauer said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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