NAACP plans to buy apartments Goal is to let tenants run complex

July 14, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

The chairman of the NAACP's National Housing Corp. said yesterday that the civil rights group is planning to buy a troubled 672-unit Baltimore apartment complex for low-income residents and change it into a successful tenant-run cooperative.

John Mance, the chairman, said that officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People expect to sign a deal with the state Department of Housing and Community Development by the end of July that would allow the NAACP to assume nearly $20 million in debt owed by the owners of Strathdale Manor Apartments in East Baltimore.

The deal reflects a recent NAACP strategy to save blighted housing developments with high vacancy rates in poor minority neighborhoods, thus maintaining the availability of low-income housing, Mr. Mance said.

The National Housing Corp., a nonprofit arm of the NAACP, aims to buy such troubled apartment complexes throughout the United States, Mr. Mance said. Ultimately, the developments would be turned over to the tenants so that they could run the complexes as cooperatives, he said.

"The NAACP is in the business of housing in a financial way," Mr. Mance said from the NAACP's annual convention in Indianapolis. "We want to do the same kind of thing around the country. We hope to massage Strathdale to make a model to the nation for low-income family housing. It is one part of our whole philosophy of acquiring and sustaining rights for black Americans."

The 30-year-old Strathdale Manor, a group of brick buildings in the 6100 block of Frankford Ave. once known as the Sarril Apartments, would be the second apartment complex owned by the NAACP.

The nation's oldest civil rights group owns a complex for senior citizens in Las Vegas, said Mr. Mance, who is also a member of the NAACP's national board.

Strathdale Manor, owned by Strathdale Associates Limited Partnership, was placed in receivership by Baltimore Circuit Court after the owner became saddled with almost $20 million in debt.

In 1988, state housing officials lent Strathdale Associates $17 million for renovations in an effort to maintain the availability of low-income housing in the city, said Nancy Rase, deputy director of the state housing agency.

The city also has chipped in. In December 1990, the Board of Estimates approved a $1.8 million loan to Strathdale Associates that came from federal rental rehabilitation funds. In addition, the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development gave a $1 million grant to the owners, Ms. Rase said.

When many of Strathdale Manor's apartments became vacant because of vandalism and crime, and rehabilitation efforts stalled because of to management problems, the state went to court and asked that the complex be placed in receivership, said Ms. Rase.

The complex is 55 percent occupied, she said.

The Circuit Court named the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand as receiver. On Feb. 15, Coopers & Lybrand hired Otis Warren Management Inc., a minority-owned Baltimore business, to manage Strathdale Manor, where residents pay market-rate rents of $350 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $410 for two-bedroom units. Other residents get federal Section 8 housing assistance.

Since the Warren company took over Strathdale Manor, Eric Clarke, a behaviorial psychologist who manages the complex, has formed a tenant council and joined the Eastern District community policing program.

Mr. Clarke has written a detailed plan on how to turn Strathdale Manor into a successful development. He and Mr. Warren presented it to the NAACP.

Some of Mr. Clarke's ideas include forming a youth basketball league and frequent inspections, some unannounced, of apartments to check for cleanliness and vandalism.

"The only way to do it is to create a new culture within these complexes," Mr. Clarke said.

Mr. Mance agreed, saying he is optimistic about Strathdale Manor's future.

"We plan to do this by example and opportunity," he said. "A lot of these people haven't had the opportunity to consider how to treat property.

"The city Police Department has promised assistance, and people will get to feel a sense of safeness. That will provide considerable happiness to child and parent."

Mr. Clarke said that since the Warren company took over Strathdale Manor, residents are "singing our praises."

"We feel that people must know that management cares, and that they must be held accountable," he said. "It's not an easy task, but unless we do something, we will not be able to make affordable housing available. So it behooves all of us to make some changes in our approach in order to try to break this cycle.

"You have to tell people they are entitled to the unit, but if they don't do certain things, they will be evicted.

"They are good people, but they are so intimidated by the few who are taking over these complexes and destroying them. The drug dealers and vandals do as they please and get away with it. Others stand behind the doors locked in."

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