State and NAACP officials expect to close a long-awaited deal early next year to put a troubled East Baltimore apartment complex in the hands of the civil rights group.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced in July that it would buy the 667-unit Strathdale Manor low-income housing development in the 6100 block of Frankford Ave. The project has been in the hands of a court-appointed receiver since 1990.
But the deal, in which the NAACP would assume $20 million owed on state and city loans made to the troubled project, has been slow to take shape, and the $410-a-month, two-bedroom apartments have been equally slow to rent.
Strathdale Manor, a sprawling complex of two-story brick buildings on a ridge near Interstate 95, stands more than two-thirds empty despite extensive renovations.
"Quite frankly, the project had a pretty negative reputation in the market," said Nancy Rase, director of housing development programs for the state Community Development Administration. "There were problems with crime and drugs on site."
"Once a development has a reputation for being unsafe, it takes a while to overcome that and generate market interest. That's the phase they're in now," she said.
Residents say that since Baltimore developer Otis Warren Jr. took over Strathdale's management in February, the complex has become a much better place to live.
Tenants have organized an active residents council, children in the complex receive tutoring and take field trips, and a food co-operative is due to start next month.
Two Northeastern District police officers patrol the community, using a Strathdale apartment as their base. Residents are given a telephone number to report drug trafficking and other crime problems.
"We have seen a remarkable improvement in the community around us," said Sarah Satterfield, who has lived at Strathdale for a decade and is secretary of the residents council. "We have to win people's confidence back. The nucleus we have now will be growing."
"They always say you have to crawl before you can walk," said Ms. Satterfield, 56, a secretary in the state Health Department. "We've been crawling this year, and for '94 we intend to start limping anyway. I think we will be put on the map again."
Drugs stashed under cars
Officer Perry Standfield, who patrols the complex, said Strathdale -- where drug dealers once made the streets their showroom and stashed their wares under the tires of tenants' cars -- is safer now.
"We've totally turned things around over there," he said.
The NAACP's National Housing Corp. plans to make Strathdale (formerly the Sarril Apartments) a tenant-run project -- a prototype for similar efforts across the country. The NAACP has headquarters in Baltimore.
"We're on target, but the target is a little more distant than we had anticipated," said John Mance, chairman of the National Housing Corp. "The NAACP wants to do it, you can bet on that."
Mr. Mance, an NAACP national board member who lives in Southern California, said the group now runs one development, a 115-unit senior citizens complex in Las Vegas.
Mr. Warren, who proposed the deal to the NAACP, would continue to manage Strathdale under NAACP ownership. The developer said he expected the deal would be completed within 60 days.
"We want to do more than just develop housing. We want to develop a community," Mr. Warren said.
The change cannot come too soon for tenant Glenda Brown-Dinkins, whose courtyard at Strathdale Manor is almost entirely vacant.
"It looks like a ghost town," she said. "It looks so empty that people would say they don't want to live here. It would be much better if the apartments were rented."
Praise for improvements
But Ms. Brown-Dinkins, 32, who is rearing her three children in a basement apartment, has nothing but praise for the improvements made this year at Strathdale.
"When I moved here, there was different management. As long as they got the rent, they didn't care," Ms. Brown-Dinkins said. "The main problem was drug dealing. It was just out in the open. Nothing got done. Now security guards and police walk through the area."
The Baltimore Circuit Court appointed a receiver in July 1990 to take over the project. The former owner, Strathdale Associates Limited Partnership, fell behind on debt payments to the state while renovating the apartments, which were built in the 1960s.
Bruce McCall, a partner in the Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm, was named the receiver.
Mr. McCall said the sale of the project "is taking longer than had been anticipated, partly due to the slow rent-up, partly due to the negotiations with the NAACP and fixing the financing. It's a fairly complex debt structure."
The project is eligible for federal low-income tax credits that will be sold to investors to provide capital with which to complete renovation of the apartments.
Ms. Rase, the state official, said the NAACP would not have to make debt payments until the apartments are 80 percent occupied.