Funding in place for new housing

Graziano `optimistic' about revisions to city Section 8 program

On sites of razed projects

April 25, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Declaring there's "reason to be optimistic" about neighborhood revitalization, Baltimore's top housing official said yesterday that nearly 1,300 new housing units were "moving toward production" and vowed to make the city's discredited Section 8 rental program an asset to communities.

Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano told a news conference that financing was in place or being sought for a dozen projects funded in part by the city and containing a total of 1,289 new and renovated mixed-income units, about half of them on the sites of demolished public housing projects Murphy Homes and Flag House Courts.

The total amount of city money invested in these projects is $18.6 million, or about $14,000 per unit, Graziano said. The rest of the funds comes from federal, state and private sources.

Graziano said officials were "focusing on internal administrative problems" in the city's Section 8 program, but he pledged to begin using $124 million in unspent funds to provide additional vouchers and develop new rental units.

The unspent money was among many problems mentioned in a scathing federal audit last month that found the city's Section 8 program to be "barely functional" and traced most of the problems to the administration of former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves and serve the people and neighborhoods of this city," said Graziano, who was appointed by Mayor Martin O'Malley to the city's top housing post in October. "I believe [Section 8] should be looked on as a community builder, not a destroyer of neighborhoods," he added.

Michael Kramer, named by Graziano a month ago as acting director of the Section 8 program, said officials have "worked feverishly on getting landlords paid" and said such payments should be up to date by next month. "That will restore credibility, as far as landlord participation," Kramer said.

At the same time, he said, the agency is "upping the bar on inspections to ensure that we do not pay landlords subsidy money for substandard properties."

Last month's federal audit said inspectors failed to note sanitation, lead and structural problems in many of the city's Section 8 properties. The city subsidizes about 7,000 rental units for low-income families through Section 8 vouchers.

Kramer said the agency was going "back to basics," stressing staff productivity and accountability. "Next year at this time, I think you're going to see a vastly different Section 8 program," he said.

Graziano's conference -- his second since returning to his job in early February from a monthlong leave to undergo treatment for a drinking problem -- followed disclosure that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week rejected a modified plan for redevelopment of the demolished Hollander Ridge housing project in East Baltimore and was rescinding a $19.4 million grant.

Graziano said he was unsure of the reason for HUD's rejection, adding, "We have no other plan at this point because we think we have a good plan."

The housing chief said that closing was set for May 17 for the 260-unit Heritage Crossing project on the site of the former Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, and that developers were "moving to finalize a financial package in the next few weeks" for a 338-unit project on the site of the former Flag House Courts on the east side.

Other planned projects include nine senior developments with a total of 644 units and a 47-unit, market-rate apartment project on Druid Park Lake Drive, he said.

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