Housing agencies partner for funds

Joint bond effort to yield money for renovations

Federal rule change allows plan

Anne Arundel

March 17, 2003|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Faced with dwindling federal aid and an aging housing stock, several Baltimore-area housing authorities are pursuing a unique partnership that would allow them to issue $60 million in bonds to make sorely needed improvements at public housing neighborhoods.

Roofs would be replaced, central air conditioning installed and housing units made accessible to the disabled with revenue from the bond package, which officials hope to issue this spring.

The housing authorities of Baltimore City, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Howard County are among the local agencies that hope to partner with the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

The partnership - being worked out with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees local public housing agencies - would be the first of its kind, officials said.

It would enable the agencies to pool their resources with the state housing department to borrow against future federal funding to obtain money for physical improvements now.

"I think it is one of the most exciting innovations out there," Victor Hoskins, secretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said of the plan.

Hoskins predicted that the initiative would be watched closely by housing agencies nationwide. Often housing authorities don't have enough money to make necessary improvements all at once and have to do things piecemeal, which can be more costly, Hoskins said.

"This will allow [the local housing authorities] to pull the money to the present day, use it now and ... have big impact," he said.

The idea emerged from a change in federal regulations in 1998 that allowed housing authorities to use portions of the capital funds they receive from HUD annually to pay off debt service on a bond issue, said Roy Westlund, deputy director of the state Community Development Administration.

Since that change, a few large housing authorities have issued bonds, but the Maryland plan would be the first where several authorities combine resources and split the costs associated with the sale.

The agencies would use up to one-third of their capital funds to pay off the debt over 15 to 20 years.

Westlund said the plan is expected to generate the following amounts for local housing authorities: about $45 million for Baltimore City, $6.3 million for Annapolis, $5.7 million for Anne Arundel County and $405,000 for Howard County.

Housing authorities of Prince George's and St. Mary's counties and Easton also plan to participate in the bond issue.

In Annapolis, the funds amount to three times a normal year's capital funding, said Executive Director P. Holden Croslan. She said she hopes to use the money for projects that would immediately improve the appearance of the city's 10 public housing neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for residents.

"We've been trying to keep a list of the things that need to be done that are so big we wouldn't be able to get them done with our yearly grants," Croslan said.

That list includes central air conditioning for every community, new roofs for several, interior painting and rewiring, and sidewalk, landscaping and recreation center improvements.

"We've been very enthusiastic about this because we have so much work to be done," Croslan said. "All housing authorities have more work to do than the money to do it."

In Anne Arundel County, Executive Director Larry Loyd said he expects to use the money for new bathrooms, kitchens, roofs, windows, doors and heating and air-conditioning systems in the county's seven neighborhoods outside Annapolis. "All of our communities will be touched by this money over the years," Loyd said.

The Baltimore City agency expects to return to the bond market two more times, to raise about $120 million, said Lyle Schumann, deputy executive director.

Schumann said the authority - which receives about $25 million a year in capital funds from HUD - will use the money to make more than 500 apartments fully handicapped-accessible, modernize bathrooms and kitchens, replace roofs and update electrical systems, among other projects.

The city authority, which manages about 13,000 units of public housing, has a backlog of $600 million worth of modernization projects, Schumann said.

"The real positive impact is that it will let us make a significant impact into our backlog that we are not able to make through the small grants we get from HUD on an annual basis," Schumann said.

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