At the groundbreaking, the mayor spoke of revitalizing a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood that had seen better days. Housing officials heralded the beginning of a partnership between a nonprofit developer and a builder to create affordable homes and help stop the steady migration to the suburbs.
Lured by the promises and money for closing costs, middle-income homebuyers eventually lined up to purchase 39 homes near Cold Spring Lane and Granada Avenue.
Today, many wish they had never heard of the community called Park West. They blame shoddy or unfinished construction for holes and cracks in foundations, faulty wiring, leaks in walls and basements, and jagged, protruding wires in yards. They say floors creak, ceilings sag and paint jobs appear undone.
And, perhaps most frustrating, nearly three years after the project was unveiled, the homeowners -- most of whom moved into newly constructed homes over the past year -- complain of being stonewalled at every turn by developer Housing America Through Training Inc. (HATT), city inspectors and the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"We've paid $80,000 and up to live in something that's deplorable," says Darcel Jackson, a Baltimore customs broker and secretary of the newly formed community association. "We want a house. We don't want a shack."
City housing and planning officials, who donated the site of a torn-down school for the development of homes starting at $84,990 and $94,990, have agreed to meet this week with Park West homeowners.
Residents said last week that they hope to present their complaints to Ronald Butz, executive director of HATT. But Mr. Butz on Thursday said he was unaware of the meeting and had instead asked residents to send him written lists of items to repair.
HATT, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income buyers, has built about 140 houses and trained close to 100 workers for entry-level construction jobs through classroom instruction and on-site supervision by skilled labor.
In 1991, after the city awarded HATT the Cold Spring Lane site in a competitive bidding process, the developer teamed up with Bruce Scherr Development Co. of Reisterstown to build three-bedroom duplexes and single-family homes. HATT offered grants of up to $8,000 -- including $3,000 per unit from the city -- to help buyers with closing costs.
Catherine Caskey, director of development for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, said the few complaints she heard as the project drew to a close over the summer and fall have mushroomed over the past month.
"We put money in the project through land donation," said Ms. Caskey, who said the city is not involved in other HATT projects. "We're getting two different stories from homeowners and HATT. We've gotten enough complaints to warrant looking at this carefully."
Mr. Butz has maintained that service continues on work that typically remains at the end of a construction project. Part of the problem has been residents misdirecting their complaints, he said, sending lists everywhere but to him.
Besides that, some jobs fell through the cracks between the time the construction manager, Munshell and Associates Ltd., pulled out of the project and HATT assigned a full-time worker two weeks ago to complete unfinished jobs, mostly caulking and painting. Now, he said, "We're moving along over there and satisfying everyone."
Bruce Scherr, president of Scherr Development, declined to comment on the project.
To subcontractors' charges that HATT has fallen behind on payments, Mr. Butz would say only that he is "still working through some of that."
"It's a beautiful project," he said. "Thirty-nine people wound up with homes because of the cooperation of Baltimore City. Half of the people have homes who otherwise wouldn't have had the chance."
But frustrated residents say many problems never should have come up and shouldn't take months to resolve. Residents have been left with backed-up plumbing, flooded yards, cracks in ceilings and walls, poorly insulated windows and unfinished paint jobs, Ms. Jackson said.
For months, Barbara Lane said, she hasn't been able to get anyone to attach the railing around a window well and worries about her two children falling in. She can't use her second-floor bathroom because of a leak, and plumbers couldn't determine a source.
Denise Dortch, a single mother working two jobs, complained of a sloppy paint job on the exterior of her house. "I paid hard money for this home to be built correctly," Ms. Dortch said.
When Robert Wheatley first saw a model of the turn-of-the-century-style house with lattice-work on the front porch, "I loved the home," the Towson State University police officer said.
But the house he moved into in March fell far short of his expectations.
"Ninety five percent of us are very, very unhappy with these homes," said Mr. Wheatley, who is president of the community association. At his home, "after the first month and a half, the siding blew off in a windstorm," he said.
Complaints came from subcontractors as well, who said they hadn't been paid. As estimator and project manager for Cotten Construction, Jesse Murphy said he spent months trying to find out when the company would be paid over $65,000 for installing sanitary lines, storm drainage lines, inlets and pavement patching.
"Ron Butz would tell me one thing and then wouldn't follow through," said Mr. Murphy, who has since left to start his own business.