A top housing official is fired in shake-up But Clarke blames director for troubles in agency's high-rises

January 19, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

A top administrator of the Housing Authority of Baltimore wa terminated yesterday and another reassigned as Executive Director Robert W. Hearn moved to shake up the management of the troubled agency whose developments are plagued by crime, vandalism and vacancies.

Juanita Clark Harris, the authority's deputy executive director since January 1991, was ordered to resign immediately, Mr. Hearn said in a prepared statement.

James Martin, director of the division of housing management, was reassigned to work on special projects for the Housing Authority, Mr. Hearn said in the statement.

Mr. Hearn refused to be interviewed about the moves.

"While continuity in management is important, it is even more important for us to be creative, work smarter and be pro-active," he said in the statement.

He named Danise Jones-Dorsey, chief of field operations for the city Urban Services Agency, who has no experience in public housing management, to replace Ms. Harris.

Ms. Jones-Dorsey, 40, a former director of field offices for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, will oversee the authority's $70 million budget and 1,400 employees, and its $30 million federally funded housing modernization program that started last year. She will be in the acting position for at least six months, Mr. Hearn said.

Emmanuel Price, who has worked for Mr. Schmoke's "Roving Team" of trouble-shooters and who also has no experience in public housing, was named acting director of housing management by Mr. Hearn.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the moves indicate that Mr. Schmoke is sending "trouble-shooters" from City Hall to monitor the Housing Authority, a city agency that is fully funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ms. Clarke said that she has been alarmed by the problems in the city's public housing agency, which manages 18,300 units. She blames Mr. Hearn for the problems.

"We need someone who cares at the top. What I said speaks for itself," Ms. Clarke said, of Mr. Hearn. "We have been disappointed in the management of public housing in the last several years. We need to start with a zero base with the Housing Authority. Until we make a real commitment to the safety, sanitization and decency of public housing, we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mr. Schmoke, referred questions about the shake-up to Mr. Hearn.

There are crime, vacancy and vandalism problems at each of the four high-rise developments, but particularly at Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore, where the vacancy rate is 25 percent.

Mr. Hearn toured Lexington Terrace for an hour on Jan. 8 and said he was shocked by the vandalism, poor maintenance and poor management. He said he had not visited the development in five months.

Last week, Mr. Hearn responded to the problems with a plan to close a blighted high-rise at Lexington Terrace and move the 69 families to another high-rise within the development that will be renovated with $500,000 in federal funds.

The plan was rejected by angry residents, who said they had not been consulted and did not support it.

Ms. Clarke said she also finds Mr. Hearn's plan unacceptable. She said she wrote to him on Dec. 11, expressing alarm over the vacancy rate, which averages 18 percent in the 18 high-rise buildings, and demanding "accountability and correction" of the problem.

"I don't support it," Ms. Clarke said of the plan. "We need houses. We don't need one more vacant building to be taken over by drug dealers."

Mr. Hearn said that because of security and crime problems, potential tenants are rejecting offers of leases in the high-rises -- despite a waiting list of 26,800 families for public housing.

At another crime-plagued public housing complex, Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, 25 units are ready to rent, but families on the waiting list rejected leases, Housing Authority officials said.

State Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, a former Housing Authority employee who met with Ms. Harris on Dec. 31 to discuss the problems, said he was shocked to learn of the terminations.

"I hope this is not scapegoating," Mr. Rosenberg said. "The problems did not happen overnight and they are not going to be solved overnight. Whoever's in charge needs to look at rigorously managing properties and ways to turn them back around."

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