High-rise cleanup announced HUD to speed funds for Lexington Terrace

February 11, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

The federal government and Baltimore's Housing Authority announced yesterday a 30-day cleanup plan for the deteriorating Lexington Terrace public housing project with an infusion of $2.2 million in federal funds.

Officials from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development emerged from a two-hour meeting, saying they were forming an "action team" to come up with both short-term and long-term solutions to improve living conditions, tighten security, clean up the property and provide job training for tenants of the five high-rise buildings in West Baltimore.

Although he gave few specifics, Michael Janis, acting assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing at HUD, said, "We agreed conditions at Lexington Terrace are deplorable and we're all committed to turning it around."

Mr. Janis' meeting followed a visit last week by Henry G. Cisneros, the new HUD secretary, who toured Lexington Terrace.

Twenty-five percent of the project's 577 high-rise apartments are vacant and vandalized. Like the city's other high-rise public housing, Lexington Terrace suffers from broken elevators, leaking plumbing, rodent infestation and cracked ceilings and walls.

The poor conditions prompted 67 tenants to place their February rents in escrow accounts this week. They hope to convince a rent court judge to withhold their money from the Housing Authority until repairs are made.

Last week, the authority, in an attempt to address the tenants' complaints, began moving some families out of one of the blighted high-rise buildings -- at 734 W. Fayette St. -- to low-rise apartments in better condition.

While the authority has come under fire for its deteriorating projects, the city's other housing agency, the Department of Housing and Community Development, has also been criticized for failing to spend $52 million in federal housing funds for renovations and other programs.

The $52 million, however, is earmarked for nonpublic housing and cannot be spent to overhaul Baltimore's public housing.

Mr. Janis said yesterday that HUD officials will do everything they can to cut red tape to bring other funds from Washington to Baltimore's Housing Authority as quickly as possible.

He said the $2.2 million was already owed to Baltimore but will be sent ahead of schedule and should arrive within the next few weeks.

"I'm committed to getting money here as quickly as possible," Mr. Janis said.

Robert W. Hearn, executive director of the city Housing Authority, said the money will go into his agency's operating budget, but he would not specify how it will be used in Lexington Terrace.

When asked whether Baltimore's other public housing high-rises will get the same attention as Lexington Terrace, Mr. Hearn said, "Obviously we have to deal with it. We just don't have the dollars to do something simultaneously" with Lexington Terrace.

More than a year ago, the Housing Authority announced plans to seek $58 million from HUD to demolish five public housing high-rises in Lafayette Courts -- another decaying project in East Baltimore, across town from Lexington Terrace. The Housing Authority wants to replace the high-rise buildings with safer, low-rise apartments.

Yesterday, Mr. Hearn said Baltimore is still submitting documents to HUD and has not yet received approval for the Lafayette Courts proposal.

In his other position as commissioner of Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development, Mr. Hearn was questioned yesterday by the City Council about the $52 million in unspent federal housing funds.

Council members at a routine budget review hearing backed away from their previous criticism of Mr. Hearn after he blamed federal red tape and a reduction in the city's housing staff for inability to begin spending the $52 million, which is earmarked for housing construction projects and other programs.

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