Housing agency hit by another brick Clarke, others angered by payments to workers as buildings crumbled

February 03, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

While public housing was crumbling and most municipal employees were being furloughed or denied raises, the city's Housing Authority workers received an extra $1,000 each -- a total of $1.4 million that could have been spent on blighted buildings.

Money for the worker payments in August was drawn from federal accounts and grants given to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for administering the public housing program.

The payments to about 1,400 workers resulted from a collective bargaining agreement between the Housing Authority and two union locals that represent maintenance employees and supervisors, in lieu of a pay raise.

No other municipal employees union -- teachers, firefighters, sanitation or police -- received a cash concession to make up for their lack of traditional across-the-board raises in a year of budget shortfalls and tightened city purse strings.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she had heard rumors of Housing Authority "bonuses" for months, and was outraged about the $1,000 payments when she was informed of the details yesterday by a reporter.

"It is time for us to dismantle the Housing Authority and start from go," said Ms. Clarke, who made a highly publicized overnight visit to the besieged Lexington Terrace public housing complex a week and a half ago. "This is a wrong-headed use of the dollars intended to provide public housing. It [represents] a bonus to me. It's outrageous when city employees are going through their second year without a raise.

"And we have a crying need to use money to benefit residents of public housing. Don't tell me you don't have the money to clean every unit and don't tell me you don't have money to send families into better housing. It's dining while you're whining."

The one-time payment was negotiated during a time of lax maintenance and management at the city's 18 public housing high-rises, which have been cited as factors in a vacancy rate that now totals 18 percent -- even while the waiting list for public housing has thousands of names.

Housing Authority employees -- who are not city employees because they are paid with federal funds, rather than from the city general fund -- also received a 6 percent pay raise in 1991. That increase is under review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine whether it complied with federal regulations on salary comparability with local government employees, said Bill Tamburrino, head of the local HUD public housing division.

The $1,000 payment was offered to the Housing Authority's nearly 630 union employees last year as part of a two-year collective bargaining agreement signed in July, authority administrators said.

But the authority's 768 non-union employees also were awarded the cash payment in an effort to maintain parity, said Robert W. Hearn, the authority's executive director.

"It is a fairness practice that for 20 years has been practiced by the Housing Authority," Mr. Hearn said. "The payment was reasonable. We have a variety of needs to meet monetarily and this is one of those times."

Mr. Hearn said that to compare the Housing Authority's employees to other city employees is "not an appropriate analogy."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed, saying last night through a spokesman that the payment was "appropriate" because of the division in funding sources for the employees.

The $1,000 payments were drawn from a variety of federal funds administered by the Housing Authority, such as the low-income public housing reserve fund, the Section 8 housing fund and various grants, said June Goodwin, chief budget analyst for the authority.

Ms. Goodwin defended the cash payments as saving the Housing Authority $665,000 -- money the agency would have had to pay out in salary and benefits if a hypothetical 6 percent cost-of-living adjustment raise had been negotiated with the two bargaining units of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and extended to all of the authority's 1,400 employees, she said.

The $1,000 payments satisfied the salary portion of the first year of a two-year collective bargaining agreement, said Mac Baker, the Housing Authority's personnel director. The unions and the Housing Authority are scheduled to return to negotiations for the salary portion in the contract's second year in May, he added.

The Housing Authority pays more than $32 million annually in salaries and benefits for its employees, Ms. Goodwin said.

"The one-time payment of $1,000 offered us an economical way to reach a collective bargaining agreement," Mr. Baker said.

Cheryl D. Glenn, president of the 5,300-member City Union of Baltimore, said her members have complained to her about the $1,000 payment given to the Housing Authority workers.

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