With drug dealers prowling the halls and taking over empty apartments at Meade Village and Freetown, housing officials figure a few police officers would make good neighbors.
The county Housing Authority, hoping to combat rising violence and drug-related crime, wants to recruit police officers to live in its projects for low-income families.
"It just strikes me that it would make an awful lot of sense to have police cars parked there and uniformed officers living there," said Charles St. Lawrence, chairman of the governing board, who made the proposal Thursday night.
By increasing the police presence at Meade Village and Freetown, he said, the communities would become saferfor tenants. St. Lawrence first suggested offering two apartments ineach project to the county police for free. But after further discussion by the board, he agreed that officers should pay the average rent of $151 a month.
Board member Shirley Alexander opposed the move, saying she believes every available unit should be leased to families on the authority's long waiting list.
"It's not right when we have 879 families that are poor and looking for houses," she said, looking at the waiting list. Several hundred more seniors are in line for subsidized housing.
Alexander also pointed out that tenants could feel intimidated if they believe police officers were enlisted to monitor them.
"We're trying to build communities, not prisons," she said. "If you want a security guard, we ought to purchase a security guard."
Reaction among tenants interviewed Friday was mixed. Some supported the proposal, saying having police officers as neighbors might scare off drug dealers. Others were worried that their homes will turn into a controlled state.
"I think it would stop a lot of crime and violence," said Renita Harold, a resident of Meade Village and daughter of Cheryl Harold, who heads the community's tenant council.
But another Meade resident, who asked not to be identified, said patrol officers have harassed her son. "If they move in here, they'll be giving us grief all the time," she said.
Public housing authorities in such cities as Chicago and Philadelphia have offered free apartments to police officers to deter crime, said Harold S. Greene, executive director of the Annapolis Housing Authority.
"It makes alot of sense," he said. "In some areas, it appears to have been verysuccessful in decreasing illegal activities."
Though the Annapolis agency is considering establishing satellite police stations in some of its eight housing projects, Greene said he doesn't plan to invite police to live there. "We don't need to," he said.
St. Lawrence said he discussed the proposal briefly with one county police officerand officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Officer V. Richard Molloy, county police spokesman. He said the proposal would be considered, and if approved, officers would be notified of the housing opportunity. "I think it has some value."
The board voted Thursday night to proceed, pending HUD approval. Alexander was the only board member to cast a dissenting vote, saying, "You just cannot guarantee that that police officer is going to make any contribution to the community."
Board members suggested using units now designated as office space for county police.
Since the $25,200 starting salary for county police officers is higher than the maximum for public housing, the board decided to waive the income eligibility guidelines. A single person receiving $22,700, the maximum to live in public housing, would have to pay $500 a month in rent under HUD requirements.
Though three of the county's seven foot patrol officers have been reassigned to an anti-drug school program, police still routinely patrol Meade Village and Freetown on foot.
In other business, the board received an update on Project Vacancy, the agency's ambitious program to end high vacancy rates in the two family and five senior projects.
Thirteen of 16 units renovated in the last month have been leased, maintenance supervisor John Wenzel reported. The authority has only 73 vacant units, not counting 12 apartments in a boarded-up building at Meade Village. Those units are scheduled to receive handicapped accesses.
In the first month of Project Vacancy, the authority turned over 34 empty units, in sharp contrast to the 11 rehabilitated in November and December. The pace slowed down in March because the maintenance crew was working on larger and more seriously damaged units, Wenzel said.
Two former employees of the troubled authority attended the board meeting Thursday night. Miguel Novoa, the former occupancy supervisor, and Steve Siedlein, a project manager, said they came to hear the latest developments. Both resigned March 1, less than two months after the last executive director, June C. Waller, left the authority to return to Colorado.
A third employee abruptly resigned this week. Martin McCabe, who coordinated modernization programs financed through HUD, left after two years and returned to Pennsylvania.
An acting director has been appointed in the interim to supervise the$1.4 million modernization work, said Sandra Ervin, acting executivedirector.
The recent turnover continues a pattern of frequent management changes. Four executive directors have headed the authority in the last six years, and many employees stayed only a year before being suddenly dismissed.