Housing director gets tough Annapolis renters who miss 4 months of payments evicted

December 13, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Housing Authority Director Patricia Croslan, determined to turn around her ailing department, has drawn the line: Pay your rent or get out. No exceptions.

On Nov. 30 she put into use a long-standing but rarely enforced state law and sent 15 families permanent eviction notices for failing to pay rent for the fourth time. But the hard-line approach had an unintended effect.

Suddenly faced with 15 families with children on the street in a county with three full homeless shelters, the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, which usually handles a few families each month, wrote the Annapolis Housing Authority an 11th-hour check to cover rent payments.

That's backward, said Brent Johnson, appointed by Social Services to investigate the situation. His department is supposed to be referring people to housing agencies, not the other way around, and isn't supposed to be sending its scarce funds to Annapolis. What's worse, he said, is that if the authority evicts the next 30 to 40 people on the list, as it is expected to do next month, Social Services can't afford to help.

Tough, Croslan says.

"If the Department of Social Services doesn't want to pay for these people, fine, don't pay for them," she said. "We will still evict them. The bottom line is you pay rent, because if you don't, we've got 800 people on the waiting list who will.

"We're in the business of housing people, not evicting them, and it's the people who are willing to pay rent that I have to worry about," she said.

The law requiring agencies to evict tenants who have missed four rent payments has been on the books for years, but few departments in Maryland adhere to it. Many send families to programs to teach finances. Some collect what they can. Others cracked down a decade ago, making the rule common knowledge and almost unnecessary.

Anne Arundel County Housing Authority Director Larry Loyd, whose department has evicted a handful of people this year, leads one of those departments. He said eviction is brutal and harsh, but that the threat of it is the only way to get people to pay rent regularly.

"Rarely do we set people out on the street," Loyd said. "If you haven't been aggressively collecting rent, you have to start the process somewhere, especially if you've got a lot of people in delinquent status."

Croslan, who took over the Annapolis department in January, is well known for her get-tough attitude that has helped cut down on crime while reducing the size of the agency. The department's $100,000 backlog of unpaid rent is her next project.

'Not meant to be mean'

"It's not meant to be mean," she said. "Our function is to assist people who are here. I have no idea what happens to people when they leave, or where they go."

Beneath the debate over responsibility for evicted tenants, county and Annapolis housing officials agree, is a greater problem of homelessness that will increase as people are forced to leave, especially in Annapolis, where rents for one-bedroom apartments start at $700 a month.

With the Housing Authority and Social Services saying they're backed into a corner, county officials aren't sure where to turn.

"We have to ensure one level of government is not creating a problem for another level of government," said Carl O. Snowden, liaison officer for County Executive Janet S. Owens. "From even a taxpayer's point of view, this underscores why it's important to come up with a plan [to address homelessness], because whether you live in the county or city, the taxpayer is going to foot the bill for this kind of inefficiency."

Anti-growth policies blamed

Advocates of affordable housing blame anti-growth initiatives and increasing housing prices for the lack of affordable apartments and houses. But Social Services officials say families who can't make rent payments in public housing won't be able to make them in private housing.

"It's easy to say everyone should take a hard line and do the right thing," Johnson said. "But when you're talking about children standing on the street in the cold tomorrow afternoon, something has got to be done."

The question, all sides agree, is what.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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