Housing Authority purges 14,000 names from list HUD cited agency for faulty procedures

February 11, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has purged about 14,000 applicants -- some of whom had been waiting for up to 12 years -- from the waiting list for public housing.

Zack Germroth, spokesman for the authority, said there are now about 18,300 applicants on the list, down from close to 32,000 applicants in September when the purge began.

To get the list down to a manageable size, the purge was ordered by the Baltimore Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a biennial review of the authority that was released Sept. 14.

But Mr. Germroth said yesterday that the authority had been working on a plan of its own, beginning in January 1992, and that the scheme was put into effect in early September, before the review was released.

The review cited faulty procedures for handling and placing the families that are on the list.

"The authority was unable to effectively manage the roughly 25,000 persons on the public housing waiting list," stated the HUD management review that was conducted between April 21 and June 3, 1992.

The review also faulted the Housing Authority for assigning some families to public housing "within a two-month to two-year period of time" while others stayed on the list for more than a decade.

"The authority could not justify why these persons were housed so quickly given the large number of persons claiming a federal preference that applied as early as 1974," the report said. "This office was unable to determine the correct ranking of the waiting list."

In September, Mr. Germroth said, the authority mailed a letter to the 32,000 applicants on the list, including 6,000 applicants classified as "inactive," asking them if they were still interested in public housing and giving them a three-week deadline to respond, either through the mail or by telephone. Applicants may be single or represent an entire family.

The original deadline was Oct. 19, but it was extended to Jan. 19, he said.

Applicants who did not respond were purged from the list. But if they contact the authority and express interest in public housing, they may be reinstated, Mr. Germroth said.

About 6,900 letters were returned to the Housing Authority because the addresses were not current. Also, an undetermined number of applicants had died while waiting for public housing, Mr. Germroth said.

The Housing Authority is also trying to locate homeless people on the waiting list.

On Jan. 29, the authority gave some of the city's 60 homeless shelters a 39-page list, containing 4,000 names of applicants who had no apparent address.

The authority instructed the shelters to try to locate applicants by Feb. 5 and inform them of the purge.

After advocates for the homeless protested that a week was not enough time, the authority extended the deadline to March 1, Mr. Germroth said.

The homeless may also be reinstated to the list if they contact the authority, he said.

"My God, I'm looking at that list, it's 39 pages and it is not alphabetized," said Sheila Matthews, director of the YWCA shelter for women and children on West Franklin Street downtown. "To find the people in one week was impossible. It was tremendous. I was taking it home and going through it one page at a time."

Norma Pinette, executive director of Action for the Homeless, a local nonprofit advocacy group, said she was shocked that homeless shelters had been given only a week to comb through a huge list of names.

"It was unreasonable to expect people to respond so quickly," Ms. Pinette said. "There is just a certain callousness to the sending out of thousands of names on a list -- that were not in alphabetical order -- it was just practically impossible. This is one of the Housing Authority's downfalls, not to be in touch. You need to communicate with everyone when you do something of that magnitude."

After a new waiting list is completed by the spring, Mr. Germroth said, the authority will be able to efficiently place families.

About 2,000 families are placed each year, HUD statistics show.

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