Shoddy work is found in city housing repairs

June 08, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Prodded by a federal audit, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has sent letters to seven contractors asking them to correct deficiencies in 54 units repaired under an emergency no-bid program.

About 1,136 units were scheduled for repairs under the program created last year to reduce the agency's vacancy rate. Federal inspectors discovered the problems during a routine audit of 60 to 70 units. The units were chosen as a representative sample of the work done by the largest contractors that participated in the $23 million program.

The defects cited by the authority -- which apparently were overlooked by its own inspectors -- range from such minor items as securing a bathroom towel rack to major ones such as failing to install sub-flooring. In some cases, the Housing Authority has asked contractors for reimbursements totaling thousands of dollars for work that was never completed or not required.

Six of the contractors that received letters were among eight whose records were subpoenaed in March by a federal grand jury as part of a separate probe into possible corruption in the Housing Authority.

The regional inspector general for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was "uncommon" for inspectors to find that such a large proportion of recently renovated units would have problems.

"We may recommend that the Housing Authority go back and inspect the work of all of these contracts," said Edward F. Momorella, regional inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose Philadelphia office is conducting the audit of the authority.

In two recent interviews, Daniel P. Henson III, the authority's executive director, said his agency was involved in discussions with contractors about fixing the problems found by federal inspectors.

"Any time you do renovations, I think there are probably some problems. What we're trying to do right now is address each and every one of them," he said.

But Mr. Henson said he had no indications from his staff or tenants that there are widespread problems of poor work in the program.

"The indications that I've gotten are that we don't have major problems," he said. "The final report card's not in on that. That's why you do audits."

"The bottom line is that we wound up getting overwhelmingly positive work as a result of this program," he added.

Mr. Henson began the program in May of last year. His agency had a waiting list of thousands of people who wanted to get into public housing and $20 million in money for repairs that had been accumulating for four years. It also had 2,400 vacant units, out of a total of 18,000, which were being trashed and vandalized.

To expedite the repairs, he declared a housing emergency, allowing the agency to bypass the usual procurement rules and offer jobs on a no-bid basis. Half of the money in the program went to minority contractors, many of whom were small home improvement businesses who had never done work for the government.

Because of the program, Mr. Henson said, the authority has been able to slash the number of vacancies to 1,600.

"This may be important," he said of the letters the authority has sent to contractors. "What is more important is reducing the number of vacant units."

The 54 units cited in the letters had passed inspection by the authority's own inspectors, Mr. Henson said, and most of the contractors have been paid for their work.

But he said the contractors could still be required to make certain repairs under standard warranties governing each unit.

"Contractors have an obligation if they don't do the work right to fix it," Mr. Henson said. "You can't just do shoddy work."

Mr. Henson said he could not say yet whether the results of the federal inspections indicated that the authority's own inspectors had failed to do their jobs.

"It's too soon to draw any conclusions on this," he said.

Mr. Momorella said his office's draft of the audit should be completed in about two weeks. The confidential draft goes to the authority, which has up to 30 days to respond. A final, public report, incorporating the authority's comments, will be issued after that.

In selecting what units to inspect, Mr. Momorella said, his office chose units that would be a "representative sample" of work done by the program's largest contractors.

Although 32 contractors received work under the authority's vacancy renovation program, the seven contractors who were sent letters did the bulk of the work. Together, they renovated 724 of the units -- 64 percent of the total -- rehabilitated under the program at scattered sites and in high- and low-rise developments, said authority spokesman Zack Germroth.

In one unit, in West Baltimore, the authority is asking the contractor for reimbursements totaling $10,481.25. The reimbursements range from $3,750 for buffing of floors to $50 for installation of gutters and downspouts. Other items include $250 for a tub and $225 for ceramic bath tile that inspectors found were not new, as required.

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