Homeless by mistake, searching for justice

After wrongful eviction, man waits for Annapolis to find him a place to live

November 26, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

Disabled and poor, 60-year-old Frank Brown returned from a medical appointment one day last June to find the picked-over remains of his belongings on the curb outside his public housing apartment.

Even his little dog was gone.

He had been evicted wrongly, and officials at the Annapolis Housing Authority soon apologized.

"They told me they would make it good," he said.

The authority, which offered him $6,000 and a two-bedroom apartment in its three-year-old Bloomsbury Square complex if he didn't sue, pulled the offer off the table after Brown retained a lawyer.

Today he is still rotating among relatives' and friends' sofas, and he and the housing authority are still haggling over where he'll live and how much it will compensate him so he can start anew.

The authority's executive director declined to discuss the matter.

"We have an attorney and he has an attorney, and we are trying to work out an amicable settlement," said Eric C. Brown, who is not related to Frank Brown.

In April, Frank Brown, a long-divorced former carpet installer, was living on $80 in public assistance and $125 in food stamps per month when he fell behind on the $50 rent for his one-bedroom apartment at Harbour House in Eastport.

After petitioning the District Court for eviction and back rent, the agency obtained a court order May 5 against him for the money, though Brown says he never received a notice of eviction proceedings. He speculated that it was torn off his door.

The housing authority set his belongings - from flowering plants to a family Bible - along Madison Street on June 28.

That day, he came home to find only his table and a few scattered items. Everything else was gone - his clothes, father's Army photos, heirlooms and even the medical papers for his back problems that cause him to walk with a cane.

But by then, he had paid the rent and should not have been evicted, said R. Saul McCormick, his lawyer.

"It's not malicious. It was a mistake, and mistakes happen," said Thomas J. Fuhs, the housing authority's insurance adjuster.

Housing authority officials put Brown up in a hotel for nearly two weeks and bought him necessities and a few items of clothing.

Since then, he has been carrying a bag of clothes to a new location every few days, shuttling among the chairs, sofas and floors of "whoever will let me spend the night with them," he said. That has been two friends, a niece and his sister, none of whom is in a position to offer him a permanent home, Brown said. His three grown children do not live in the Annapolis area, he said, and he doesn't want to leave.

In a July 6 letter apologizing for the "extraordinary inconvenience" of the eviction, the agency proposed a settlement. The authority showed him an apartment in Bloomsbury, which was enticing in its newness and location along College Creek. But he questioned whether the entire deal was in his best interest.

"Six thousand dollars wouldn't buy my furniture," Brown said.

He consulted McCormick, who began negotiating with Fuhs, charging Brown a reduced rate.

Since the agency withdrew the offer for the Bloomsbury Square apartment, McCormick asked that the authority place Brown at the top of the Bloomsbury Square waiting list. The authority rejected the request.

McCormick said the agency made tentative offers for a one-bedroom apartment in two public housing complexes that Brown fears are too dangerous for him and Kokoc, his dog, who is now living with a friend of Brown's.

It also suggested he could return to his Harbour House apartment, McCormick said. But Brown said climbing the steps to the third-floor walkup was getting difficult. Besides, Brown said, going back would be heartbreaking, knowing that "everything I owned there I lost" and that his neighbors scavenged his property. He has even seen his flower pots on another apartment's balcony.

Glenwood, a high-rise for senior and disabled citizens "would be OK," McCormick said, but neither the agency nor the lawyer has suggested it.

Wherever he gets settled, he'll pay more rent, as he is now receiving Supplemental Security income of about $600 a month and Medicaid, though his food stamp allotment is being cut to about $14, he said.

Oddly, McCormick said, the housing authority has sought rent from Brown through October and he received an eviction notice.

"I said, `How are you going to evict me?'" Brown said, "I'm already not there."

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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