Housing authority delays plan for year Clay Street residents' opposition to razing homes halts project

June 11, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

A controversial proposal to apply for a federal grant that would raze and rebuild two of Annapolis' poorest public housing complexes was postponed until at least next year because of opposition from residents.

Annapolis Housing Authority officials confirmed yesterday that they will not pursue a HOPE VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year.

The multimillion-dollar project would have torn down 163 units in Obery Court and College Creek Terrace in the Clay Street community to build about 200 subsidized and privately owned townhouses.

But community residents and housing and elected city officials met with County Executive John G. Gary yesterday afternoon to discuss applying for the grant next year.

Participants said Gary also agreed in that meeting that a postponement was necessary to win support from residents for the project.

"We're not going to just quit, we're continuing to work to meet whatever deadline, if there is a deadline, for next year to apply for HOPE VI," said Patricia H. Croslan, executive director of the housing authority.

"We believe that if we take the time to help people understand and feel more comfortable, it could be a very successful project," Croslan said.

"But, I am very disappointed because there is a level of rehabilitation work that is necessary there," Croslan said of the complexes, which are about 50 years old and need major repairs.

"It leaves us hoping for funding to accomplish that, and everyone knows we don't have a backup plan that offers what a HOPE VI project has to offer."

Croslan told the housing Board of Commissioners about the postponement last night.

Details of the decision are expected to be announced tonight at a community meeting at the Obery Court Recreational Center.

The decision ends almost a month of tension in the Clay Street neighborhood as residents argued over a project that many felt offered empty promises. Many believed HOPE VI would simply evict them from their homes in the downtown area.

Memories of '70s project

When the HOPE VI proposal was announced more than three weeks ago, residents immediately expressed skepticism, fearing that it was a new version of urban renewal, a federal program in the 1970s that made similar promises of better housing to cities across the country.

Instead, urban renewal destroyed many mostly black communities by relocating families and businesses. The Clay Street community of Annapolis was no different. It got a parking garage out of urban renewal.

The agency cannot apply for the grant without community support, according to HUD guidelines.

Self-sufficiency emphasized

Housing officials explained that the program would help residents become self-sufficient through educational and business training, and lead to new businesses, some possibly owned and operated by residents.

More important, they said, HOPE VI could pump $30 million into an area that badly needs revitalization.

But many residents rejected such claims and last week signed petitions to put an end to plans to use HOPE VI once and for all. More than 100 signatures were gathered, according to petition organizers.

Tenant leaders criticized

The controversy generated another petition, which sought the dismissals of Mark Beaver and Joyce Cuffie, the area's tenant council president and vice president. They supported the HOPE VI program and were accused of pushing their own agendas and misrepresenting tenant concerns.

"I am glad that it's not going forward," said Obery Court resident Robert H. Eades, who has been vocal in his opposition to HOPE VI. "This gives the community a much better opportunity to take a look at the project and get more involved than we were when it was first introduced. It's not that we don't believe the area needs revitalization, but we didn't want this thing pushed down our throats.

"We don't look at this as a victory; we look at it as an opportunity to learn more," Eades said.

But Croslan said the housing authority was not trying to force the project on anybody.

"It just seemed our downside outweighed our upsides," Croslan said. "Too many questions seemed unanswerable at this time.

"I think our decision shows we are not trying to push this down anyone's throat."

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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