Tenants assail public housing

Some seek ouster of agency's chief at NAACP-led meeting


April 19, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

At Annapolis' Bowman Court public housing development, residents complain of run-down units and a housing authority that they say just doesn't care.

Mud puddles fill many front yards. Residents say they find long stretches of the point-tipped iron fences confining, while the fences do little to curb drug dealing through the rails.

They also complain about mismatched or missing kitchen cabinet doors, cockroaches and new electrical wiring in aluminum pipes that run through living rooms.

"These places are [run] down, really old. They need to be redone," said Patricia Holliday, president of the tenant council of Annapolis Gardens and Bowman Court. "We are just asking for decent housing."

Tuesday night, Holliday joined a standing-room-only crowd of residents, officials, community activists and others at a town meeting sponsored by the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the state of public housing in the city. Organizers estimated the turnout at more than 200.

Several residents described degraded living conditions and some called for the ouster of the Annapolis Housing Authority's executive director, P. Holden Croslan.

"I think it is time for her to go," declared Dora Brown, a resident of Obery Court. "She needs to go, not tomorrow - now!"

The meeting, at First Baptist Church on West Washington Street, caps a month of increased criticism of the director, who has been given rave reviews by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since taking the post in January 1998.

The Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners will vote on whether to extend Croslan's contract - which expires Jan. 12 and includes a 2001 salary of $97,020 - in an executive session after its May 9 meeting.

Croslan did not attend the meeting Tuesday. She did not return calls yesterday.

Anita Tyler, a member of the board and an Annapolis Gardens resident, was among those who criticized Croslan's leadership style at the meeting.

"She has no respect for the board, nor does she have respect for anyone else," Tyler said.

Tyler had presented other board members with a list of complaints about Croslan - including questions about costly construction change orders - after their March meeting.

But Howard Pinskey, the board's chairman, called most of Tyler's criticism unjustifed yesterday.

He said residents complain about Croslan because "she is a no-nonsense type of person. She has a tough-love approach to helping residents. She believes that people should try to help themselves, cooperate, follow the rules, obey the laws, pay their rent on time and keep their units clean."

Pinskey, who described public housing as a privilege, said some of the problems at the housing projects are caused by the residents.

He said he has driven through a community an hour after crews have picked up trash and the grounds are littered again.

At the Tuesday meeting, he was the only Housing Authority representative on a NAACP panel, which included Mayor Dean L. Johnson, Del. Michael E. Busch of the 30th District and others.

Yesterday, Pinskey said that many of the complaints aired by residents at the meeting were "very, very old complaints" while others were "distortions."

He praised the authority's record under its current management. The authority received a 97 rating (out of a possible 100) from HUD in June 1999, compared with a score of 45 in June 1997, before Croslan took over.

Pinskey said HUD reviews the authority's recordkeeping, maintenance, finances and personnel. A score of 60 or lower indicated a troubled agency. Last year, HUD changed the review system to pass/fail, and the Housing Authority passed.

But with 1,104 units - some 60 years old, among the oldest public housing in the nation - the money the Housing Authority has goes only so far, Pinskey said.

"We feel what we are trying to do is right - we're trying to provide safe, clean, fair housing," Pinskey said. "We are much improved than we were four years ago. There are still problem areas. We are working on them."

NAACP member Carl O. Snowden, special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens and a former city alderman, said he thought the turnout at the meeting Tuesday spoke for itself.

"If there were improvements in public housing, they were obviously not enough to satisfy those citizens who showed up," Snowden said. "Clearly, they want more reforms to take place."

The NAACP plans to send its recommendations on public housing to HUD, the city council and the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners by May 1.

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