New owners, renovation save condemned housing

March 20, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

One year ago, Annapolis housing inspectors ran out of patience with the owners of the Bay Ridge Gardens apartments. After repeated warnings, they condemned the 196-unit complex March 19, 1993.

Today, Bay Ridge has new owners and is undergoing a yearlong, $12 million renovation.

Apartments are being gutted, and heat and electric systems updated. Foundations are being laid for a new community center and a laundry.

But even more important, say the new owners and residents, is that a new community is being born.

"Now there is hope," said Octavia Gross, who has lived in Bay Ridge for 14 years with her husband and three children. "Everybody is trying to work together."

Last March marked the 20-year-old community's low point.

"The place should have been condemned," said Mrs. Gross' husband, Arthur, who is president of the Bay Ridge Tenant Council.

Others residents, such as Carolyn Alderson, wondered where they would go when the property was condemned. "I was pregnant at the time and this was the only home I had," she said.

Last winter, housing inspectors went through the three-story brick units and found about 600 housing code violations, including loose plastic flapping in open windows, corroded electrical wiring, stuck fire doors and faulty plumbing.

Some residents were afraid to use the basement laundry rooms because the places had become havens for drug dealers.

The owners, CAM Construction Co. of Timonium and John S. Pica Sr., had been patching up the project for years, but said they could not afford the major overhaul the city demanded.

"Last year was terrible," said Kathleen Owens, who lives with her four children. "The maintenance people wouldn't do anything."

Help finally arrived in December, when the Bay Ridge Gardens Limited Partnership bought the complex. As a result, an agreement was reached allowing residents to stay in their apartments.

The limited partnership includes the Bay Ridge Gardens Resident Council, an investment group, and the Landex Corp., a Warwick, R.I.-based company that specializes in rehabilitating apartment communities.

The partnership assumed a $2.05 million Housing and Urban Development mortgage and secured a $4.5 million loan from Loyola Federal Savings Bank. The Maryland Housing Fund insured the loan, while the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta's Affordable Housing Program subsidized the interest on the loan.

$12 million cost

The partnership also received a $1 million loan from the Maryland Community Development Administration, $750,000 from the Arundel Community Development Services Inc., $200,000 from the city of Annapolis and up to $130,000 from the Anne Arundel County Economic Opportunity Committee. Private investors put up $4.3 million and receive tax credits on their investment.

Altogether, the project will cost $12 million, including land acquisition and repairs.

Residents' suggestions

At the end of 15 years, the resident council will have the right to become the sole owners. They already are letting Landex officials and the contractors know how they feel about the renovation.

At their request, a separate laundry building will be built, fences and gates will be erected to keep criminals out and a picnic area is being planned.

"We've had a lot of input," said Ms. Alderson, a member of the tenant council.

Adrian Harpool, the residents' services coordinator with Landex, said that once residents see the work being done, more will be willing to get involved. "It gives people a sense that they can really accomplish things," she said.

'Better neighborhood'

Zarek Brown, 12, already is willing to do his part. He has been fascinated by the Resident Council and attends every meeting with his grandmother, Shirley M. Brown, a council member.

He also volunteers to distribute fliers and gives the council advice when asked. He said he's excited by the plans to improve the playgrounds and drive out the drug dealers.

"It's going to be a better neighborhood for the children to live in," he said.

Mr. Gross admits he was skeptical about Landex's promises. He had lived in Bay Ridge 13 years and watched its slow decline. It was once an area of decent, affordable housing. It became a run-down complex with a reputation for drug dealing.

"My first thought about Landex was, 'Here's another promise,' " he said.

When Landex told residents they would be part-owners in the project, he remained unconvinced. In fact, he is still awaiting a disagreement that will test the strength of the 8-month-old residents' council. But so far, Landex has given the tenants whatever they've requested and is "doing an excellent job," he said.

Lower rents

Construction work began March 3. About 45 families were moved from two apartment buildings and relocated in vacant apartments in the complex. Landex paid the moving costs and utility transfers.

The families will be displaced about three months while their apartments are renovated. New doors and windows, kitchen cabinets, sprinklers and carpeting will be installed, along with other improvements.

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