Public housing goes unrepaired as cash tightens City officials fear federal cuts will curb overdue renovations

'It's unbearable'

Shrinking grants raise questions of safety, livability

November 22, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

At 98 College Creek Terrace in Annapolis, the windows are open, the fans are blowing and the children are watching television in their underwear to stay cool. Outside, temperatures are dipping into the 40s.

"It can get to 90, 95, 98 degrees in here," Venita Thompson Savoy said yesterday inside her mother's apartment in the complex, where an outmoded heating system keeps some residents sticky with sweat all winter. "It's unbearable."

The Annapolis Housing Authority hopes to get at least $1.4 million from an embattled federal grant program to renovate four of the 10 public housing developments in the city next year. A new heating system for the 57-year-old College Creek complex, just off Clay Street, is at the top of the list.

The authority also would like to repair leaky roofs at Newtowne 20 off Forest Drive and renovate kitchens and bathrooms at Eastport Terrace off Madison Street, and Obery Court off Clay Street.

A federal program aimed at modernizing aging public housing properties would pay for the work.

But time is running out on the program.

The Republican-controlled Congress began cutting the budget of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the city's housing developments, said Annapolis Housing Authority Director Harold Greene.

The authority drew up its renovation plans for this year in anticipation of getting $2.3 million, but received $1.8 million instead.

Next year, the grant is likely to be even smaller, Mr. Greene predicted.

Mr. Greene, who has worked in public housing since 1972, said he has never been so concerned about securing the federal money the city needs.

"I'm not sure I've ever witnessed this kind of radical change in philosophy for funding public housing as I've seen in recent times," he said.

"It appears to me there's a philosophy that says the government shouldn't be in the housing business at all."

Hearing planned

The housing authority will have a public hearing on its grant application at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Harbour House/Eastport Terrace Community Center. Officials want to submit the grant request by January, even though the deadline is June 30, 1996, to improve chances of getting the money.

The financial squeeze has forced Annapolis officials to search for the fastest ways to pay for the most critical renovations at the complexes, home to 5,000 residents -- 18 percent of the city's population.

"We start out with the universe. We list everything that needs to be done in development and we prioritize it," said James Simpson, the housing authority's modernization director. "My list for College Creek may have 20 to 25 things on it. Obery Court the same thing. We've got to pick one or two or three things that are the priority."

This year, the housing authority turned its focus to Annapolis Gardens, where it renovated kitchens and bathrooms in 100 units and replaced electrical wiring.

But because the federal government delivered $500,000 less than the authority had anticipated, it had to delay for a year projects such as replacing the ancient College Creek heating system.

The housing authority hopes to spend $500,000 to replace the boilers with a more modern heat-pump system that will allow residents, not the federal government, to control the temperature.

The present heating system lacks temperature controls for each apartment; the heat is either on or off, with nothing in between. And the boiler room is beneath a row of the units, making those homes extra hot in the winter. The Savoy residence is one of those homes.

Safety questions

Ms. Savoy, 35, who grew up in the 108-unit community, remembers burning her arm on a radiator when she was a teen-ager. She still feels the heat through the floors when she visits her mother, and sometimes leaves the front and back doors open at night to cool the rooms.

She can dry a pair of blue jeans in 15 minutes by placing it on the radiator. And her relatives have left air conditioning units running full-blast in the dead of winter.

"This boiler room is uncontrollable. We have been waiting to fix it forever," Ms. Savoy said. "It's not safe to live like this."

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