Spurred by alarming vacancy rates, they've spent five months on the "bricks and mortar" end of the housing business, renovating and leasing dozens of boarded-up units.
Now that half the empty units are filled, the county's public housing employees are focusing on tenant programs and routine repairs.
The Housing Authority plans to run a summer lunch program for children at Meade Village and Freetown, the two projects for low-income families. Other new programs include revamping the playgrounds, inviting parents at Meade to start their own day care program, and improvements to the five senior complexes.
While applauding those steps, Charles St. Lawrence, chairman of the authority's governing board, emphasized again that the agency is "a bricks and mortar organization."
St. Lawrence told his colleagues at a board meeting Thursday night he believes County Executive Robert R. Neall and other county officials "are really digging in" now that they understand that the authority is in the business - like other management companies - of running apartment complexes.
At the monthly meeting, he also suggested that the authority assist Neall in finding a tenant to serve on the board by supplying references.
The county executive has said he probably will pick a tenant to replace Shirley Alexander, who abruptly resigned in April. Alexander, the only black member of the volunteer board, said she felt "increasingly removed from the committee" and believed it was time to leave.
St. Lawrence speculated that Neall might ask about candidates: "Do these people pay their rent? Do they keep their homes clean?
"If these references pan out," he said, "then the county executive might appoint them."
Freshman Commissioner James J. Riley suggested that the authority recruit candidates. His appointment to fill a yearlong vacancy on the board in March upset some housing advocates and black community leaders, who said a tenant from one of the projects should have been chosen instead. The board was expanded from five to seven seats in 1977 to increase resident representation.
"I think it would be nice to have a resident on the board since our decisions do affect the residents," Riley said in recommending that candidates be solicited.
Commissioner Robert Scharf disagreed, saying the selection is up to Neall and the board shouldn't interfere. By asking tenants if they would be willing to serve, "we could approach someone and have their hopes dashed," he said.
The board decided to take no action after Glenndale Johnson, occupancy supervisor, said Neall had dispatched his human relations officer. Adrian D. Wiseman, to collect names. Neall also attended a tenant meeting at Freetown last week and asked interested residents to apply.
Freetown activist Wendy Edwards said she believes a tenant should be on the board. "The people that have to live through all the things is us," she said. "We would know better, so we could explain to them what could come up."
She disagreed with the idea of basing a selection on timely rent payments and cleanliness, pointing out that many residents might be late with their checks one month or have an untidy home and still be interested in the community.
Ervin said she drew up a list of names of prospective candidates from Freetown "because for a long time, Meade had representation on our board."
A Meade resident served on the board in the early 1980s, but no tenant from either project has been appointed since then. Stella Benesch, who lives in the Glen Square senior complex, was the last tenant on the board. She stepped down early last year.
In other business, the board approved the latest occupancy report, which showed a drop in the number of vacant units to 47 from a high of 91 earlier this year. The count excludes 12 boarded-up apartments at Meade that are scheduled for modernization and six flooded-out units at the Stoney Hill senior site.