Baltimore resumes program to winterize homes for poor

January 29, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

A $3.4 million program to winterize homes for the poor in Baltimore is under way again, three months after being suspended for shoddy and incomplete work.

So far, 52 of 382 units have passed follow-up inspections for energy-saving improvements that were poorly or never done, prompting the state to make another $171,700 payment to the program.

Part of the money will go toward correcting outstanding deficiencies; the rest will be used to winterize additional homes. City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III has been asked to submit plans by the end of the month for revamping the program and beginning new winterization work in May.

But payment of $250,000 in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. funds funneled through the state is being withheld until the city proves all the incomplete work is finished.

"Things are improving," said Robert C. Adams, director of the Maryland Office of Weatherization. "The work they're doing now is to identify the problems and correct them."

Amid state complaints of shoddy and faulty winterization work, the city suspended the program in October and dismissed all nine employees. The city also hired three companies at a cost of about $10,000 to inspect work done at the 382 units.

Mr. Henson said he has revamped the program and agreed to stop using employees and contractors of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to do energy-saving work. He also shifted the program under the supervision of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which must report to the state.

None of the contractors who failed to complete the work will be hired again for future winterization projects, Mr. Adams said.

The program is designed to cut energy consumption by low-income homeowners and renters. The city's multimillion-dollar weatherization budget is funded almost equally by the U.S. Department of Energy and BGE.

Problems with the city's handling of the program first surfaced in inspections conducted in the spring.

Of 34 units visited by state inspectors, 65 percent failed their tests. BGE inspectors found similar problems in another 40 units.

Based on the inspections, Jacqueline H. Rogers, then Maryland's housing secretary, told Mr. Henson to correct the deficiencies and hire private inspectors to certify the work. The inspectors have approved 52 homes so far, some of which required repairs or reimbursement from housing authority contractors, said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the authority. More homes have been inspected, he said, but he could not jTC provide exact figures.

"The pace is relatively slow, slower than we had anticipated," he acknowledged. "We're still involved with cleaning up problems that the program had, but we're getting the program back up to speed."

Mr. Germroth could not provide information on how much contractors had to repair or repay to the city.

Revelations of problems in the winterization program came amid a series of missteps by the city housing authority.

A scathing federal audit released last fall found the authority had spent $900,000 for shoddy and incomplete work in a $25 million no-bid repair program of vacant units.

Federal prosecutors also have been investigating corruption at the authority.

Four contracting companies have been charged with making illegal payments to housing authority employees, and an authority engineer and management analyst have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

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