Arundel Housing Mess

October 08, 1991

A report from the Neighborhood Policy Institute concludes that big public housing authorities create big opportunities for mismanagement, waste and corruption. This extends to suburban agencies, too. Consider the embarrassing and continuing troubles of the Anne Arundel Housing Authority. The county agency has run through five directors in six years. Lax maintenance and administrative mistakes have cost it thousands federal subsidies and modernization grants. Until recently, vacancy rates hovered around 10 percent. Even now at half that, vacancies are considerably higher than they should be.

Now comes the news that the agency is being investigated for possible spending improprieties and fraud. Senior administrators allegedly signed purchase orders without proper authorization and took advantage of government discounts to buy home appliances.

These charges apparently stem from documents made available the Black Political Forum by present and former employees. Admittedly, the forum has an ax to grind. It has in the past been sharply critical of the agency. Last May, in a report, the forum concluded that the agency was "in shambles." This apparently led to some whistle-blowing, the substance of which is now being looked into by federal officials. Investigators aren't saying much. But the misdeeds under study have to do with the improper use of government discounts and wholesale prices for personal purchases by high-ranking administrators under the past two executive directors.

Such misuse of government resources, if true, is symptomatic of a bureaucratic culture that blatantly disregards rules and procedures. Until recently, the authority didn't bother to perform annual inspections or income verifications. Tenants were allowed live in apartments that failed to meet minimal health and fire standards.

The agency claims it is getting its act together. We certainly hope so. Its latest director, Larry A. Loyd, a veteran housing official from Charlotte, N.C., who took the helm last month, has pledged to lower the vacancy rate and improve service to the mostly elderly residents served by the authority.

Mr. Loyd recently said the role of public housing authorities has changed. "We need innovative ways to find the money to continue providing housing for the poorest people and to look at long term goals -- how to break the cycle of dependency." Those goals seem a long way off just now. Mr. Loyd's first priority is

painfully clear: getting the authority's house in order.

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