Housing Authority Resented

Residents, Others Decry Council Makeup, Attitude

April 28, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

On a sunny afternoon last week, Meade Village blossomed to life. Childrenplayed tag between the low-rise apartment buildings. Teen-agers hungout in the parking lot, a mother chased after her toddler, and Cheryl Harold took a hard look at her lawn.

The spring fever was contagious, drawing more and more people outside. Harold stopped to chat with a few neighbors, but she was constantly on the go -- meeting with the new, on-site housing manager and talking to the police officers patrolling the streets.

With a manager back at Meade Village and maintenance workers renovating boarded-up apartments, Harold said, "Things are getting better." She hopes theactivity will continue, that the foot patrols will scare off drug dealers and that families will move into the long-empty units.

FOR THE RECORD - Due to an editing error, a story in the same edition incorrectly stated the circumstances behind James J. Riley's accession to the Anne Arundel Housing Authority's board of commissioners. Riley was named tofill a year-old vacancy on the board after Stella Benesch, the last Housing Authority tenant to serve on the board, stepped down.

Better a little late than never, said Harold, a 14-year Meade Village resident and president of its tenant council. But some residents and leaders in the black community are too frustrated to praise the latest efforts. They believe the county Housing Authority let the 200-unit complex languish too long.

"Maintenance has definitely been neglectedfor years and years," said Lewis Bracy, leader of Blacks for Success, a martial arts and self-esteem program for children from Meade Village. "The people who live there have been basically isolated and ignored."

The genesis for what Bracy describes as an "out of sight, out of mind mentality" was fear, housing authority sources said. Frightened by the open-air drug markets of the late 1970s, agency workers began ignoring Meade Village and Freetown, the county's other family project.

In a domino effect, the attitude that family projects costmore to maintain and generated less income than senior housing eventually led to high vacancies, said an employee who asked not to be named. But the agency has been committed to renovating the vacant units since January and hopes to get modernization money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Concerned by the recent resignation of Shirley Alexander, black leaders are calling for bettertenant representation. Alexander was the only black member on the volunteer board overseeing the seven public housing projects.

After serving four years with the authority, Alexander unexpectedly announced April 9 that she was stepping down midway through her term. Her resignation came just a month after a year-long vacancy on the board was filled. The appointment of Alexander's replacement, James J. Riley,a retired schoolteacher and former Republican candidate for the House of Delegates, upset housing advocates who said a tenant should havebeen chosen.

Board members countered that no tenants have appliedfor the volunteer job since Stella Benesch retired in February 1990 after 15 years with the authority. The 73-year-old resident of the Glen Square senior complex was the last tenant to serve on the board.

"To my knowledge, we have not had anyone make any overtures," said Richard L. Ay, senior vice president of Curtis Engine and Equipment Co. in Baltimore, who serves on the board. "Anyone in the county certainly could apply, depending on their qualifications."

Ay said the work "requires some business knowledge" and cited the architectural, engineering and banking backgrounds of his colleagues on the board. He said he was appointed in 1990 after mentioning his desire to do some volunteer work to former County Executive O. James Lighthizer.

Board chairman Charles St. Lawrence has said he tried unsuccessfully to recruit a tenant to replace Benesch. After he failed, he recommended that County Executive Robert R. Neall appoint Riley.

But tenant council leaders at Meade Village and Freetown said they easily could name several candidates.

Harold said she's too busy working for the county Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs and heading the tenant council to volunteer. Neighbors who regularly show up at council meetings and voice their opinions probably would be interested, she said.

Community activists say Alexander's resignation offers Neall another chance to appoint a tenant, and the county executive promised lastweek to consider the appointment carefully.

"There will, over time, be tenant representation," Neall said, adding that he had heard ofat least one resident who expressed interest in serving on the board.

He compared attempts to fix problems at the authority, includingrehabilitating vacant units and hiring a new executive director, with "trying to paint the merry-go-round while the horses are moving."

Board members said a tenant should be appointed if a "suitable candidate" can be found. But housing and community activists object to blaming an alleged lack of tenant interest.

"It's absolutely inexcusable that there's no tenant on the board," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a civil rights activist who helped lead a movement forresident representation in 1977.

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