Public housing remodeling foes due in court Friday They say changes mean new furniture

November 10, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

A group of elderly residents seeking an injunction to halt unwanted remodeling of their public housing apartments will plead their case before a county Circuit Court judge Friday.

Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. yesterday also reduced the bond the senior citizens have to post to get an emergency injunction -- which would prevent any work before the hearing -- from $15,000 to $10,000, based on their lack of liquid assets. The residents had wanted the bond dropped to zero.

Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. had set the bond at $15,000 on Monday.

Mildred Pelkey, a resident of Pinewood Gardens in Glen Burnie, said she and the other three women suing on behalf of 96 tenants would not risk their meager savings.

If they had money they could easily lay their hands on, they wouldn't reside in public housing, her lawyer told the judge.

"That's absurd. No way I would put up my life savings for their wall," Ms. Pelkey said at the conclusion of yesterday's hearing.

A reverse mortgage provides about half of her approximately $600 a month income. Social Security provides the rest.

Pinewood Gardens is a public housing complex run by the county Housing Authority.

Tenants must be poor to qualify for any of the 290 apartments there.

Residents claim they did not receive adequate notice of the approximately $100,000 in remodeling work. A Washington, D.C., construction company won the bid to remove the wall separating the efficiency units' kitchen from their living areas and install a new wall to mark off the bedroom.

But many residents claim that their furniture will no longer fit in the apartments, and that they cannot afford to buy replacements.

The residents' complaint claims the Housing Authority violated federal Housing and Urban Development regulations by not issuing written notice.

Larry Loyd, executive director of the Housing Authority, contends that the residents were properly notified, even though it was by telephone call and not in writing.

The women also allege that they were never given the chance to comment on the Housing Authority's comprehensive plan for renovations. They have asked the court to consider this a class action on behalf of 96 tenants, even though the work has been completed in about 14 units.

A stop-work order had been issued Oct. 20, because the contractor had not received the necessary building and electrical permits. The permits were issued Nov. 2 and a $40 fine was paid.

Darrell Henry, attorney for the Housing Authority, told the judge that the authority has offered a compromise on the new wall. But that does not include leaving the kitchen wall in tact, pointed out Janet E. LaBella, a Legal Aid Bureau attorney for the tenants.

Mr. Henry said the kitchen wall needs to come down to create a larger work space for people who use wheelchairs, canes and walkers.

Mrs. Pelkey said after the hearing that the two-story buildings have no elevator and upstairs units are not accessible to wheelchairs.

Nevertheless, some people use such aids only in their apartments, and this would benefit them, said Mr. Loyd.

He said the work is part of a long-term plan to modernize the apartments, which are about 20 years old. He said the Housing Authority would like to replace the kitchen cabinets and counters next year, and replace flooring and other fixtures in ensuing years.

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