Once-proud Annapolis community happily reborn

July 11, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Inga Williams never thought she would return to her childhood home. By the time she married, the brick apartment complex where she grew up was a slum, beset by open-air drug markets and squalid living conditions.

When she heard that Boston Heights had been renovated as low-income housing, Mrs. Williams was skeptical. But one day last fall she toured the 159-unit complex at the northwestern edge of the city and realized the once-proud community had been reborn. She moved back about three months ago.

"It looked better than I imagined. I said this is terrific, a real blessing," Mrs. Williams said yesterday, after unfurling a red ribbon at a dedication ceremony attended by about 100 people.

City, state and federal officials joined residents yesterday morning to celebrate the grand opening of Admiral Oaks, the renamed community that was completely refurbished with $9.7 million by Community Preservation and Development Corp. of Bethesda.

Balloons bobbed at the entrance off Admiral Drive, where drugs once were openly dealt. Children rode their bikes down the tree-lined street where stripped, abandoned cars once sat. And families proudly showed off their spotless apartments, filled with modern appliances and thick carpeting.

"It's really come full circle," said Charles Simms, an Annapolis housing inspector who lived in the apartment complex with his wife and two children shortly after it was built in 1968.

Called Newtowne Nineteen at the time, the collection of brick apartment buildings was the city's first affordable-housing development, a welcome escape from the tight housing market. But the well-kept community deteriorated after it was sold to Dr. Sateesh K. Singh, a Howard County landlord, in 1983.

Even after tenants went on a rent strike and the state attorney general investigated, few repairs were made. Many tenants had no heat during the winters and kept warm by turning on their stoves. Others complained about leaky roofs, broken pipes and bad wiring.

City inspectors uncovered 758 housing code violations at Boston Heights in 1989 after a fire that killed five children focused more attention on the run-down complex. With the city threatening to condemn Boston Heights, Dr. Singh evicted the remaining 63 families in November 1989 and closed it.

Community Preservation and Development Inc. bought it for $2 million in April 1990, said Leslie Steen, president of the non-profit organization. The group lined up $4 million in long-term financing by the Federal National Mortgage Association.

Construction began in earnest in September, with workers clearing away the hypodermic needles and rubble in abandoned apartments and replacing the leaking roofs.

The company spent more money than usual on landscaping to give Admiral Oaks "a whole new image," Ms. Steen said. The work was completed late last year, and the first families moved in New Year's Day.

Families must meet state and federal income requirements, and the apartments rent from $220 to $470 a month.

Sixty-three units have federally subsidized rent.

"I think today we're celebrating a miracle," said Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall.

Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins joined Mr. Neall, Rep. Tom McMillen and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in praising the combined efforts to turn Boston Heights into Admiral Oaks.

"There's been a spiritual rejuvenation in this community," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who led the 1984 rent strike and fought to close Boston Heights.

Several residents agreed. "With the Lord's help, we're going to keep it together," said Keith Williams, Inga's husband.

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