Housing chief wins praise Croslan taking get-tough approach

March 04, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Less than two months after taking control of the Annapolis Housing Authority, an agency beset by scandal and embroiled in personnel upheavals, a tough new executive director, Patricia H. Croslan, is winning admirers.

Croslan, 50, a native of North Carolina, is no stranger to controversy and isn't cowed by it. Since taking her post, she has fired eight people, confronted troublesome loiterers and evicted more problem residents than any of her predecessors.

One Harbor House Apartments resident, a man who goes by the name Joey, told Croslan during one of her weekly jaunts into the neighborhood recently, "I hear you're kicking butt and taking names."

At that, Croslan smiles proudly.

"You have to be tough if you want to be taken seriously in this business," Croslan says. "We have a big job to do here. Someone suggested that I should exorcise this office before I started because there's obviously something bad going on here.

"We are aggressively and actively working to change that perception."

It might not be easy. In 1988, Director Arthur G. Strissel Jr. was convicted of fraud, bid-rigging and taking kickbacks. His successor, New York native Harold S. Greene, was credited with restoring order to an agency riddled with corruption.

But in the last three years of his seven-year tenure, Greene lost favor with the Annapolis City Council and the authority's Board of Commissioners. He was ousted in 1996 for failing to correct problems in a timely manner and failure to develop trust with the board.

Replacing Greene was Deputy Director Roger "Pip" Moyer, a former Annapolis mayor who temporarily looked after the more than 1,100 federally subsidized housing units that accommodate about 5,000 low-income Annapolitans.

Moyer inherited a troubled agency that failed to meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Out of a possible 100 percent, Annapolis scored 46.79 on HUD's Public Housing Management Assessment. When the authority appealed, HUD sent an independent agency to conduct an assessment, and Annapolis' score fell to 23.81. The problems were too many vacancies, too few unit inspections and too much energy consumption.

Croslan, one of 85 applicants, walked in for interviews last year and wowed commissioners.

"We felt she was most qualified to turn the agency around," said Marita Carroll, chairman of the board of commissioners. "She was quite impressive. She came to Annapolis with the idea that there was something that needed to be done for the good of the agency, and she felt she was the one who could do it. We, the board, appreciated that."

Questions of potential conflicts of interest in Croslan's past did not deter the commissioners. For example, in 1988, when Croslan worked for the New Rochelle Neighborhood Revitalization Corp. in New York -- where she began her career in public housing -- she entered a lottery and won the chance to buy a $90,000 subsidized townhouse that had been built by her employer, according to the Gannett Westchester Newspapers.

Croslan left the nonprofit, city-run construction company that year to become head of the New Rochelle Housing Authority. The newspapers reported later that a HUD-sponsored engineering study uncovered around $688,000 worth of incomplete or shoddy work on one of the renovation projects she had supervised during her tenure.

Croslan went on to a similar position with the New Britain Housing Authority in Connecticut in 1991. She was fired in 1995 after months of questioning by commissioners about her work and an 8 percent pay raise she had given herself.

Croslan sued the authority and the commissioners in federal court, charging them with violating her civil rights and defaming her character. As part of the settlement of the suit, the authority was required to issue a statement saying Croslan had done nothing wrong. She was one of a string of housing directors who had difficulties with the authority or were let go in the late 1980s and early 1990s, newspaper reports said.

"I became a controversial figure," Croslan says of her New Britain job. "I was stuck in the middle of a political battle waged by people who didn't believe money should be spent on welfare, drug-dealing single mothers. I didn't agree with that line of thinking, so I became very politically incorrect.

"That's why being in Annapolis now is a godsend. Annapolis, to )) me, feels like a place ready for progress."

Croslan has begun flexing her muscles.

She immediately fired eight program managers and eliminated services deemed wasteful, saving the authority, which has a budget of more than $5 million, almost $450,000.

More than 20 eviction notices have been sent out in the past two months and department heads say the evictions are final. No more bending the rules. No more jobs for people who know someone. No more housing for people who don't put their names on the long waiting list. No more free repair work.

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