All housing workers ordered to list real-estate interests Henson's directive still allows ownership of rental properties

February 09, 1996|By Jim Haner and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jim Haner and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

An article in Friday's editions of The Sun had an incorrect date of Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III's return to work from vacation. He returned last Monday.

The Sun regrets the errors.

In the wake of disclosures that Baltimore housing officials own rundown rental properties, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III has ordered all 671 department employees to report for the first time their real-estate interests.

The city also began inspecting properties owned by 20 department employees -- newly identified in an internal investigation ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- to determine whether any pose health hazards to tenants or otherwise violate the city's housing code.


Mr. Henson, upon his return Wednesday from a weeklong vacation, issued a seven-page code of conduct that requires the more extensive disclosure but still allows housing employees to own and operate rental properties.

The directive contradicts Mr. Schmoke's statements over the past week that he intends to curtail or even ban the practice. And even in announcing the latest efforts by his housing administration, Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that he doesn't consider them far-reaching enough.

"All of these still must be considered as interim measures," Mr. Schmoke said at a news briefing. "It just sends the wrong signal when the folks who are most responsible for maintaining decent housing in Baltimore are not energetically following up on their duties.

"So we're going to continue to work on this matter."

Mr. Schmoke, who has ordered a top-to-bottom probe, reiterated yesterday that he is leaning toward barring housing inspectors, other enforcement officials and, possibly, city lawyers who handle housing issues from owning rental properties.

Notices not made public

Deputy Housing Commissioner Harold Perry, appointed by Mr. Schmoke to investigate revelations in The Sun two weeks ago, refused to release a list of the 20 newly discovered employees or the addresses of their properties. He also would not make public deficiency notices covering hundreds of housing code violations on properties owned by the four housing inspectors and a close aide to Mr. Henson previously identified by the newspaper.

Among the housing officials who own deteriorating properties is Arthur D. Gray -- Mr. Henson's aide -- whose rowhouses have been a source of concern among community leaders and tenants for years. Mr. Henson recently named him to a post in the federally funded empowerment zone, the $100 million project to revive some of Baltimore's most impoverished neighborhoods.

Code enforcement officials have found 31 violations at three of Mr. Gray's properties, Mr. Perry said in refusing to release details of the deficiencies. One is a rental house Mr. Gray owns in the 2800 block of E. Biddle St. The tenant said inspectors refused to give her a copy of their findings, saying it had to go to the landlord first.

"Mr. Gray sent out men this week to rebuild the whole chimney because the heater went out and the gas company said there was carbon dioxide escaping all over the basement from the exhaust pipes," said Michelle Caldwell, who lives in the house with her newborn son and three other children.

Landlords given 24 hours

Since last week, city inspectors have combed through rental properties owned by the first five housing officials to check on everything from peeling paint to rats. In some cases, they have given landlords just 24 hours to fix emergency problems, and one family was moved because the house was in such bad shape, Mr. Perry said.

By searching through land and corporation records, the housing department found that the other 20 employees each own one property in addition to their residences. It is unclear whether the properties are being rented, are vacant or are being used by family members.

Mr. Henson said he developed his directive in part because only senior officials and housing inspectors are required by the city to submit annual reports disclosing their financial interests. Other housing employees, who have not done so in the past, will be required to list any properties they own individually or with partners, as well as loans or other financial guarantees for real-estate holdings in Baltimore.

Past practice

In a written statement accompanying his new policy, Mr. Henson said inspections will be done only if tenants complain, which has been the past practice.

But some tenants are reluctant to complain about a landlord who is also a housing official as was the case with Henry John "Jack" Reed III.

Mr. Reed -- a superintendent of housing inspection who owns 13 substandard rowhouses -- has been fielding a mounting flurry of deficiency notices after more than a decade of avoiding any code enforcement action.

Since last week, inspectors have found 391 code violations at his properties, Mr. Perry said.

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