City to seek private oversight of 500 houses

January 29, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City will seek private management of nearly one-fifth of its 2,842 rowhouses because it does not have the personnel to manage the properties, Executive Director Robert W. Hearn said yesterday.

Next month, the Housing Authority is scheduled to start searching for private managers to run 500 scattered sites located in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The private management program could be expanded to additional units in the future, Mr. Hearn said.

The authority is looking to private management to curb vacancy and vandalism problems in the rowhouses.

The scattered sites were purchased by the city as early as 1969 as an alternative to placing families in high-rise apartment buildings. The homes were also seen as a way for the authority to help to rejuvenate neighborhoods by purchasing and rehabilitating blighted rowhouses.

But the authority has experienced a chronic problem managing the housing because it doesn't have enough maintenance workers and administrators to oversee the properties, Mr. Hearn said yesterday.

The best solution, he said, would be for the agency to subcontract private management companies and nonprofit organizations to find tenants, collect monthly rents and maintain the properties.

"The private sector can do a better job in general," said Mr. Campbell, president of Wallace H. Campbell and Co. Inc., a Baltimore management firm that plans to bid on the scattered site management proposal. "What is it about government that it feeds on itself? It consumes dollars that you never see."

If the Housing Authority moves ahead with its privatization plan, it would not be the first time municipal services have been contracted to private operators. In the past, city-owned golf courses and the Baltimore Arena have been turned over to private managers. Also, eight city public schools are being run by a private company.

Many of the vacant scattered rowhouses have been stripped of plumbing, appliances, furnaces and aluminum windows and then destroyed by vandals. The vandalism takes place before the authority is made aware that the dwellings are vacant, Mr. Hearn said. Tenants are also responsible for some of the damage, he said.

The agency has established a vacancy hot line for neighborhood residents to report when a city-owned rowhouse becomes vacant, but the problem still persists.

A month ago, the Housing Authority reported that 12 percent, or 362, of its scattered sites were vacant, while 247 of those units were awaiting renovations that will cost taxpayers up to $45,000 per house. There were an additional 115 scattered sites awaiting federal funding for renovation and about 45 properties not designated for renewal.

An authority maintenance worker, who asked not to be identified because he feared losing his job, said he was assigned this week to board up a vandalized rowhouse near Greenmount and North avenues -- one that was completely renovated three years ago.

"The furnace was gone, the copper pipes were gone and the stove and all other appliances were taken out," the maintenance worker said. "There had been drug dealers in the house and there was blood smeared on the walls."

Mr. Hearn said that private management will help to promote community involvement in the city's public housing as well as curb vandalism.

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