Owners vote to hire a lawyer

Residents complain of mismanagement at housing complex

`It's going to get ugly'

October 12, 2001|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

In a battle its leaders say is likely to get "very ugly," 100 homeowners at the former site of an infamous high-rise public housing project are cutting off payments to the development's management company and preparing for a lawsuit.

Members of the homeowners association at the Townes at the Terraces voted this week to hire a lawyer and to withhold their association dues, about $1,553 a month. The money, said association President John P. Wesolowski, will be placed in an escrow account pending the results of a planned lawsuit.

"It's going to get ugly. It's going to get very ugly," said Wesolowski, adding that the October fees, about $15 per homeowner, have been withheld.

The homeowners association members say they've had complaints - ranging from a lack of security to poor maintenance to safety hazards and shoddy construction - for about three years. Most bought their homes in early 1999.

Most recently, Wesolowski told the homeowners that the management company they sought to have removed had won a new two-year contract without their knowledge or approval. Wesolowski said he was told by a housing authority official that the contract, which runs out in early December, was renewed.

Wesolowski also serves as the treasurer of the development's broad-based management board, which oversees the entire project and the management company's contract. Wesolowski, however, said he only learned about the new contract with Silver Spring-based Edgewood Management after it had been signed.

Edgewood officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Housing Authority of Baltimore City spokesman Kevin Brown said that his agency has no control over the management board and that he was not certain whether the management contract had been renewed.

Brown said Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano had plans to meet with residents next week to discuss their complaints.

The west-side homes are part of the city's second HOPE VI project. The federally financed program was created by the housing authority to replace crime-ridden high-rise public housing projects with garden-style apartments and, in some cases, a combination of apartments and single-family homes.

Wesolowski and others who bought new homes on the site of the former Lexington Terrace high-rise say they have encountered little but broken promises from the housing authority, project developers and city officials since they began moving in nearly three years ago. Among the undelivered promises are a new community center, 24-hour security and a new public school, residents said.

Judith A. Robinson, homeowners association vice president, said she sent a letter to Graziano on June 20 noting the numerous problems, but has yet to receive a response. She said residents registered complaints with Graziano's predecessor, Patricia Payne, who resigned in October 2000, "but never really got an answer."

Wesolowski warned homeowners association members during the meeting this week that they could be facing a protracted battle.

Wesolowski and other association members noted a series of recurring problems. He said failures in the plumbing leading to ceiling collapses are "going right down the block." Other problems include mismatched kitchen cabinets, parking and an area of the complex that can't be reached by firetrucks.

Mildred McClain said that when fire broke out in her kitchen recently, neither the smoke detectors nor sprinklers went off. She said fire officials later told her that faulty wiring was the cause of the fire. She urged fellow homeowners to have their electrical wiring checked immediately.

Wesolowski said that although he is the treasurer of the complex's management board, he has been unable to find out how the management fees are being spent.

"I am the treasurer, and I have no clue as to what is going on with the budget," Wesolowski said.

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