Council seeks cure to public housing woes

Panel, mayor want extra inspections in bid to halt deterioration

Agency would be asked to pay

Policy would strain budget, is unneeded, authority leader says

March 13, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

On daily walks every morning through her Annapolis neighborhood to check on her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Alice Spencer picks up empty bottles and cartons off the sidewalks.

But the 72-year-old woman, called "grandmother" around Obery Court/College Creek Terrace -- her home for 48 years -- knows that it will take more than just a few concerned residents picking up trash to clean up some of the oldest public housing in the country.

"I have never seen a place go down like this," said Spencer, identifying houses with leaking pipes, falling plaster and decaying wood fixtures. "This is terrible."

The city thinks so, too.

The mayor and all eight aldermen are sponsoring a resolution to give the city the power to conduct inspections in public housing developments and charge their cost to the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, which performs them.

The resolution -- a duplicate of one that failed three years ago -- is scheduled to be introduced at the city council meeting at 7: 30 p.m. today. Regardless of whether it passes, Housing Authority officials say they are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue their inspections.

The resolution comes after a tour of Obery Court/College Creek Terrace two weekends ago with the mayor and several aldermen. After 1 1/2 hours, the elected officials said something needs to be done about the deplorable conditions in some of the 164 units at the developments.

"I don't pretend that this is a panacea," Alderman Sheila Tolliver said of the resolution. "But it's one of the many things that need to happen."

The resolution calls for the city's Department of Public Works to conduct the inspections at the 10 public housing developments. It would go into effect July 1.

When an agency inspects itself, there's a greater chance for standards to slip, Tolliver said. "It's really a second disinterested set of eyes."

P. Holden Croslan, Housing Authority director, said paying for two agencies to conduct the same work would strain her agency's budget. On average, she said, an inspection costs $50 a unit, and there are about 1,100 units in Annapolis.

"It doesn't matter who does the inspections," Croslan said. "It's a matter of who is going to pay for the repairs needed."

Funding for the authority's inspections comes from her overall operating budget, Croslan said, because inspections and repairs are often done at the same time.

This year, the authority has $192,500 budgeted for materials for repairs, with $200,000 next year.

Croslan said inspectors are well-trained, and the authority's standards are more than adequate. The authority recently scored a 97.25 percent rating, which is considered high, from HUD for safety, efficiency and quality.

The agency's inspectors and maintenance workers travel in trucks equipped with tools and materials for general repairs, inspecting units on a yearly basis. If inspectors are unable to complete repairs, they file a work order for service.

On Friday, a crew was inspecting an apartment in Annapolis Gardens, checking items ranging from electrical sockets to windows, doors and furnace filters. An inspection can take as little as 20 minutes or as much as a day.

If work is ordered, such as replacing a bathroom floor, the inspectors return to check on it after it is completed.

Alan Jay Rosenberg, the Housing Authority's director of maintenance, said his crews work more efficiently than they did before Croslan took over two years ago.

"As we find the problems and issues, we correct them right away," Rosenberg said.

But Spencer said they don't move fast enough. Her shower broke in December but wasn't fixed until February.

Spencer said she walked across the street to her daughter's each morning to take a shower.

Similar problems and concerns can be found during a stroll around the neighborhood off Clay Street.

Vandals broke Shirley Kirby's windows last fall, and they haven't been fixed.

Raw sewage seeped through Wanda Brown's kitchen ceiling from her neighbor's toilet.

And overhead cabinets in Florine Gross' house collapsed under water from leaking pipes.

"The situation is very sad here," said Gross, one of the first to move into Obery Court in 1951. "We shouldn't have to live like this." College Creek Terrace was built a few years earlier.

Croslan said workers tried to fix Kirby's windows Feb. 2, but she wouldn't let them in. Often, Croslan said, residents don't notify the Housing Authority of problems like Brown's.

In the past few weeks, community activists have rallied residents, demanding improvements to their homes.

"These places need [to be] gutted out," said Robert Eades, a resident of Obery Court and principal organizer. "We're asking for decent and safe housing."

Eades conducted the tour two weekends ago with city officials, encouraged residents to attend the Housing Authority's monthly board of commissioners meeting to demand improvements and collected signatures for a petition against some new housing policies.

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