City, HUD disagree on plans to replace Uplands Apartments

Housing subsidies worth millions of dollars at stake

March 12, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore and federal housing officials are at odds over the redevelopment of the Uplands Apartments site - a disagreement that could cost the city millions of dollars and affect the mix of affordable and market-rate units to be built at the subsidized west-side complex.

The city wants to acquire and raze the sprawling, nearly vacant 900-unit complex off Edmondson Avenue near the county line and create a mixed-income community.

Mindful of the desire of leaders of nearby middle- and upper-income neighborhoods that no more than 20 percent of the new units be for low-income residents, the city had proposed to federal officials last month that it wait to specify the number and type of units to be built on the 46-acre site until after a summer-long community planning process.

The city also had proposed that it receive the full federal subsidy of $40,000 per low-income unit for each of the 900 units at Uplands - a total of $36 million - but that it use only part of the money to build low-income units at the West Baltimore site and the rest of it at locations to be determined later.

But U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials say it is federal policy that 85 percent of the units built in place of demolished subsidized complexes such as Uplands be affordable for residents of modest means, though they stress that number is negotiable.

HUD officials also say the city can use the $40,000 per unit subsidy only at Uplands. Because the city is envisioning a community of mostly single-family homes, some of which will be sold at market rate, the amount of federal funds available would be millions less than the $36 million the city is requesting.

HUD has operated Uplands since January 2001, when the private owner defaulted on the mortgage. HUD is scheduled to foreclose on the federally backed project June 2 and has given the city until next week to specify how many units will be built at Uplands and how many will be affordable.

The differences between HUD and the city surfaced at a meeting Monday night with the Southwest Development Committee, a coalition of community groups near the complex.

City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano told the forum that "the problem is, it's a pretty wide gap" between HUD's policy of having 85 percent affordable units and the community leaders' desire to limit such units to 20 percent.

Graziano said the city would propose - by HUD's deadline - a percentage of affordable units to be built, but said it would likely be greater than community leaders had been seeking.

"I would bet you right now HUD wouldn't approve" a plan with just 20 percent affordable units, Graziano said.

Harold D. Young, director of HUD's Baltimore's office, declined to discuss what number HUD might accept. "Negotiations are ongoing," he said.

The two-hour meeting left community leaders concerned that the complex would remain boarded and vacant if the city and HUD could not reach an agreement - and leery of any pact that might be reached.

"I'm not pleased," said Dana McKee, head of the Ten Hills Community Association.

While another HUD official, Robert G. Iber, said there is "room for movement" in the requirement that 85 percent of the units be affordable, he said there is no similar flexibility in the decision that the $40,000 per unit subsidy for affordable housing can be used only on the Uplands site. City housing officials, however, said a preliminary review of federal housing law and regulations turned up nothing that would prevent the use of the money elsewhere.

For housing to be considered affordable in the Baltimore region, it must be within reach of households earning no more than $53,840 a year, according to HUD. That translates into a maximum rental price of $1,346 a month and a maximum purchase price of between $140,000 and $150,000 - considerably higher than the average sales price in the city but below what homes in some nearby neighborhoods are commanding.

The Uplands site is considered important not just for the communities that surround it but for the city and advocates of affordable housing because of its size and the number of units that would be demolished.

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