Mikulski calls for wider probe of conditions at Kingsley Park

Senator asks that HUD conduct `immediate' inspections of complex

October 17, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, growing more exasperated over deplorable living conditions at Kingsley Park apartments in Baltimore County, has called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to broaden the scope and intensity of its investigation of the complex.

In an Oct. 10 letter to HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, the Maryland Democrat asked for "immediate" and comprehensive inspections of Kingsley Park's buildings and infrastructure. "Every day that goes by the residents are living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions," she wrote.

Yesterday, Mikulski indicated that her patience is growing thin. "Improving the conditions at Kingsley Park has already taken much too long," she said. "I won't be happy until the problems are fixed and the community is safe."

Last week, a surprise HUD-led inspection at Kingsley Park showed that 34 of 39 units failed a federal Housing Quality Standards examination. That inspection was done at Mikulski's request.

The complex of 312 apartments is off Old Eastern Avenue in the center of the east-side revitalization zone.

Amy Hagovsky, Mikulski's press secretary, said yesterday that the senator has requested the more comprehensive investigation because it will show the condition of Kingsley Park's heating, plumbing, hallways and exteriors.

A spokeswoman for HUD said the agency is "considering" Mikulski's latest request.

Judith S. Siegel, president of Landex Corp., which owns Kingsley Park through a HUD-financed mortgage, said yesterday in a statement issued by her lawyer that she has "no objection" to another inspection.

Siegel added that Kingsley Park was inspected by HUD in December and received a score of 89 out of a possible 100. "Theoretically, this property is not due for a [Real Estate Assessment Center inspection] until December 2004," she said.

The Sun has requested from HUD details of Kingsley Park inspections, including the identity of the federal inspectors. The department has not responded.

For months, The Sun has detailed accounts of grim living conditions at Kingsley Park and complaints from tenants who showed evidence of malfunctioning stoves, infestation by rats and roaches, ineffective heating and dangerous electrical outlets. Many residents expressed fears of drug dealers outside their front doors.

Tenants have said that Landex was slow in responding to maintenance requests or performed sloppy repairs.

One tenant, Barbara Thomas, is planning to file suit against the Baltimore-based company. In July, her living room ceiling collapsed, knocking her unconscious and causing neck damage and pain, she said.

Caught in the middle of the conflict over conditions at Kingsley Park are more than 300 residents who want a healthy, clean and safe place to live and who wonder about the future of the property.

"There could be an immediate change here if the drug dealers didn't frighten tenants, intimidate them," said David Anshel, president of the Kingsley Park tenants' association. "But I'm not certain, no one is, really, how you go about restoring a beat-up old place like this. One thing is for sure ... somebody's made a lot of money running places like Kingsley Park because it ain't been spent here."

In a letter two months ago to County Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder and John Olszewski Sr., County Executive James T. Smith Jr. noted that Police Department records show that officers spend about 400 hours a week responding to calls in Kingsley Park.

The World War II-era complex sits in the center of the county's redevelopment zone, where officials have spent, or dedicated, more than $800 million for roads, school improvements, additional police and the demolition of two troubled apartment complexes, Riverdale and the Villages of Tall Trees. Several million dollars was spent helping residents of those complexes relocate to other homes.

Mikulski's office said that if a second HUD inspection of Kingsley Park uncovered problems, Landex would have 30 days to correct them. Another inspection could follow and if there are continuing livability or structural code violations, HUD could foreclose on the property.

In addition, Mikulski's office said, at any step of the inspection process there could be a separate probe by the U.S. Inspector General's office, examining the recent financial history of Kingsley Park.

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