4 more housing employees linked to blighted properties Decrepit houses owned by city workers paid to control their spread

February 02, 1996|By Jim Haner, Eric Siegel and Scott Higham | Jim Haner, Eric Siegel and Scott Higham,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joe Mathews and staff researcher Susan Waters contributed to this article.

As city officials try to sort out how a senior housing inspector was allowed to own slum properties in East Baltimore, records show that at least four more housing department employees own or manage decrepit houses in the city.

Among them is Arthur D. Gray -- a close aide to Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and one of the highest-ranking officials in the Department of Housing and Community Development. His rundown properties include one West Baltimore rowhouse and a rental property that he owns on the east side, and an apartment building he manages for two former business partners.

Other city officials and their properties include:

* Alvin K. Waters, construction and building inspector, 220 E. 22nd St.

* Leon A. Peters, supervisor of electrical inspections, 4002 Belle Ave.

* Norma G. Albert, housing inspector, 240 S. Broadway.

The disclosures offer fresh evidence of a faulty housing inspection program that civic leaders say has contributed to the spread of substandard rental properties in Baltimore. Officially, the city's inventory of vacant houses has increased more than 30 percent since 1993 to about 9,000. Thousands more are in disrepair, city surveys show.

The Sun found this week that some of those blighted properties are owned by the very city employees paid to control their spread.

"This whole thing is simply incredible," said Glenn Ross, president of the McElderry Park Community Association, who has been crusading for tougher code enforcement in his East Baltimore neighborhood to little avail for years. "This is opening a lot of people's eyes in the community associations for the first time."

To date, Mr. Gray is the highest-ranking city official found to own a blighted property. He recently was appointed to oversee business loan applications for the city's federally funded empowerment zone, the multimillion dollar project designed to revive some of the city's most rundown neighborhoods.

In addition to owning two poorly maintained rental properties, he failed to reveal in his annual financial disclosure statement to the city that he owns an apartment building at 2551 Madison Ave. or that he manages another blighted building at 1822 Etting St. for two former business partners.

Mr. Gray refused to comment, directing all calls to his attorney. "I should not be talking," said Mr. Gray, who was hired by the city in 1986 and is paid a $51,300 salary. "I just don't think I should."

'Unintentional oversight'

His attorney, Robert Fulton Dashiell, said that Mr. Gray neglected to report his interests in the two apartment buildings through "some sort of unintentional oversight" and that his client was unaware of conditions at his other properties.

Mr. Henson was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Housing department spokesman Zack Germroth said the city didn't know that other employees owned decrepit houses. The department is now investigating the condition of 17 houses owned by Henry John "Jack" Reed III, 55, a superintendent of housing inspection whose rental properties were the subject of an article in The Sun on Sunday.

"As new complaints about possible code violations [arise] we will continue to give these matters a high priority and act on them quickly," he said.

A lawyer representing one family in a dispute with Mr. Gray over his property at 2801 E. Biddle St. said the landlord's status as a city official comes as a surprise.

'Sure helps explain'

"I honestly had no idea the landlord worked for the city [housing] department," said lawyer Marie Lott Pharaoh. "But it sure helps explain why we've been having so much trouble getting the city to take action against him."

Responding to complaints from her clients last summer, city inspectors found more than a dozen deficiencies at the property among them, a leaking pipe and broken windows. But the inspectors cleared the complaints against Mr. Gray in December after ruling that he had fixed the problems, court records show.

But an independent inspection paid for by The Sun found at least eight deficiencies Wednesday that weren't reported by city inspectors, including holes in a water-heater vent pipe releasing exhaust gases into the house, holes in the foundation that are letting in rodents and a disintegrating bathroom with a tub full of dead roaches.

Mr. Gray's lawyer said his client made repairs to the property last year after the tenants obtained a court order against him, adding that Mr. Gray intends to immediately fix the deficiencies uncovered by The Sun.

"He'd be a fool not to," Mr.Dashiell said.

In independent surveys of three more houses owned by city enforcement officials, the inspector hired by the newspaper found dozens of deficiencies -- including a flooded basement, missing staircases, collapsed ceilings and termite-eaten structural beams.

The properties were identified by reviewing hundreds of pages of financial disclosure statements that housing officials are required to file, listing their holdings in the city.

'Multiple violations'

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