Responding to a directive from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development staged a surprise inspection yesterday at the dilapidated Kingsley Park housing complex in eastern Baltimore County.
A spokeswoman for Mikulski said HUD officials were informed late last week that the senator has received numerous tenant complaints about deplorable living conditions at Kingsley Park, a World War II-era property owned by Baltimore-based Landex Corp.
"The senator told HUD she wants them to deal with Kingsley Park and she wants it done promptly," said Amy Hagovsky, press aide to Mikulski, the ranking minority member on the appropriations subcommittee that will oversee HUD's proposed $31.3 billion budget for 2004.
Yesterday morning, three supervisors from the Baltimore office of HUD rejected a request by a Sun reporter to accompany them or inspectors during the examination of Kingsley Park. The HUD office in Baltimore did not respond to questions about the inspections.
"The senator is monitoring this situation," Hagovsky said.
County and federal officials said Mikulski made her wishes known to HUD Secretary Mel Martinez on Thursday. The next day, a two-person assessment team went to Kingsley Park, and inspectors arrived yesterday to investigate conditions at the 312-unit complex, which is financed through a HUD-backed mortgage.
Baltimore County officials have for several years been troubled by the run-down condition of the subsidized apartments, off Old Eastern Avenue in Middle River and home to more than 300 people.
After sometimes contentious negotiations, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. in August gave Landex President Judith S. Siegel a Nov. 30 deadline to fashion a redevelopment plan that will eventually mean demolition of some of the buildings and construction of single-family housing along with apartments for the elderly and residents with mixed incomes.
During what county officials called the low point of those negotiations, Siegel threatened to abandon redevelopment and seek HUD refinancing of an extended mortgage that would retain Kingsley Park's current status.
"We are encouraged by the heightened level of support HUD is now offering to the residents of Kingsley Park," Smith said yesterday.
Neither Siegel nor her attorney, Leslie M. Pittler, could be reached for comment yesterday.
Part of Smith's strategy is to eliminate project-based housing at Kingsley Park, a system that dictates where tenants will live. He would replace it with housing choice vouchers that would give tenants the freedom to live in any HUD-financed home or apartment in the United States.
Kingsley Park is in the Essex-Middle River revitalization zone, where more than $800 million in state and county funds have been spent or committed in the past eight years.
Two former low-income complexes, Riverdale and Villages of Tall Trees, became havens for crime and violence. They were torn down to make way for a new housing development, WaterView, and a large public park. Another development, Hopewell Pointe, is being built a few yards from Kingsley Park's squat rows of faded buildings.
Farther down the Back River Neck peninsula, developer Leonard P. Berger plans an upscale development in Holly Neck with Chesapeake Bay-front mansions starting at $1 million.
Other east-side improvements include a $68 million, 3.8-mile extension of White Marsh Boulevard to Eastern Boulevard near Martin State Airport, where more housing and light commercial development is expected after 2006.
Over the past two months, Kingsley Park residents have been meeting with attorneys from Legal Aid who have recommended that residents place their monthly rent payments, which range from $600 to $700, in escrow until living conditions improve.
One of those tenants, Barbara Thomas, was struck on the head in July when a ceiling in her Kingsley Park apartment collapsed. She was knocked unconscious, suffered a neck injury and has consulted a private attorney.
In numerous visits to Kingsley Park, tenants have shown a Sun reporter problems that include missing apartment walls, rodents and roaches, smelly hallways, ineffective heating, and malfunctioning refrigerators and stoves.