Eutaw Gardens plagued by rats, garbage, discarded syringes

September 19, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Charlotte Ross worries about getting robbed as she walks on a dark pathway leading to her apartment building. Once inside, she sometimes sees rats, syringes, used condoms and homeless people. And if a letter is sent to her, she may never receive it because the mailboxes are broken.

That's life at Eutaw Gardens, a sprawling West Baltimore apartment complex.

This summer, more than 400 housing code violations were recorded at the complex, which extends from the 1900 block of Eutaw Place to the 200 block of Robert Street and along part of West North Avenue. Conditions have deteriorated so much that city housing officials are thinking about relocating the tenants.

"I'll make no bones about it," said Baltimore City Housing Authority spokesman Zack Germroth. "We have concerns about the building."

Ms. Ross, 65, who pays $150 a month for a four-bedroom federally subsidized apartment, said she has seen people in the hallways engaging in sex acts and using drugs. She also said the trash bins stay full, rats and mice run freely, the hallways stink, the intercoms don't work and the management does not respond to tenants' needs.

"It's just terrible that we have to live under these conditions," said Ms. Ross, who has lived at Eutaw Gardens since it was built in 1970.

Eutaw Gardens has 268 units in 18 three- and four-story brick buildings. About 40 units are rented at market rates, and the others are federally subsidized and administered by the city and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complex is 70 percent vacant, according to Reggie Scriber, assistant to the city's housing commissioner.

Some of the housing code violations have been corrected, but city officials say they have been stymied in their effort to force the landlord to correct all of them and to maintain Eutaw Gardens to code.

Eutaw Gardens' owners and managers are found along a paper trail that leads to addresses in Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina and California.

The trail seems to end with Associated Financial Corp. in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

When a reporter phoned the company, the person who answered declined to answer questions and abruptly hung up.

During another call, a reporter asked for Jay Wall, identified by local officials as the firm's asset manager. The voice at the other end of the line replied: "He obviously has nothing to say to you."

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III had a similar experience. "I was not able to get anyone to talk to me; they said, 'Put it in writing,' " Mr. Henson said. "I am somewhat concerned. We have a property with significant violations on it, and we are trying to be in touch with the responsible people."

City officials are considering a new tactic -- declaring the complex uninhabitable and helping its 70 families relocate.

The violations were supposed to be corrected by the week before last, but city inspectors checked 13 apartments last week and did not find any significant improvements. If repairs are not made by the end of this month, the housing authority could begin relocating the tenants, Mr. Germroth said, adding that it is almost a certainty tenants will have to be moved for their safety.

He also said that as soon as today, the Housing Authority will consider suspending federal subsidy payments to the landlords. The rent that HUD contributes could be intercepted by the Baltimore City Housing Authority until the landlord makes repairs.

The city would provide relocation counseling for the tenants, who would be responsible for their moving costs, Mr. Germroth said. He added that the subsidized tenants would be told of vacancies in buildings that accept subsidy vouchers.

While the city ponders relocating the tenants, the Chicago-based American Community Housing Associates Inc. is negotiating to buy the complex. If the deal goes through, the city could give American Community a $6.9 million loan to cover the )) cost of rehabilitating Eutaw Gardens, Mr. Germroth said.

American Community is a 3-year-old company that redevelops private low- and moderate-income housing. Its president is Vince Lane, 52, who has advised Baltimore on housing programs and is chairman of the board of the Chicago Housing Authority.

"We were very pleased with the Chicago folks' proposal, if it can be implemented," said Mr. Henson, who cited financing as a possible stumbling block.

Meanwhile, Ann Atkins, a former tenant association leader, is clamoring for improvements at the complex.

She walked up to one of Eutaw Gardens' ground-level apartments that is boarded shut and asked incredulously: "Can you smell it?" as a foul odor rushed from behind a boarded window.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently visited the complex at the request of Ms. Atkins and other tenants. He described the situation as "depressing."

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