Housing fails HUD review

City agency placed on `troubled' list until improvements made

May 04, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

The city of Annapolis is considering an expanded partnership with its troubled housing authority after the agency received low marks in a federal review of its administration and maintenance.

Using data gathered for the year ending on June 30, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis a score of 38 out of 100, faulting its lengthy waiting list and inconsistent rent calculation and income verification procedures.

Among the most serious findings were the agency's recent failure to make timely repairs to correct life-threatening maintenance problems. A February check of a sample of units found exposed wiring in common areas, non-functioning smoke detectors and water leakage in areas near electrical wires.

In a letter dated April 30, a HUD official wrote, "HACA is a substandard performer in the physical, financial and management components ... and overall is designated as troubled ... "

Now in the second year of a "recovery period," the agency must earn a score of 60 for HUD to remove it from the troubled list.

Maria Bynum, a HUD spokeswoman, said a federal takeover of the agency is an option, but only as a last resort. A joint plan to correct any problems will be developed once the housing authority responds to HUD by the end of May.

Eric Brown, executive director of the housing authority, said the findings do not represent the agency's current practices.

"It's dated information, and we understand that for us this was a period of transition," he said. "I do believe we have made significant improvements since that point."

Brown said the agency's ability to track and analyze information has improved and that seven people have been hired in the accounting, admissions and vouchers departments.

In terms of maintenance, he blamed an uptick in vandalism for many of the problems the report uncovered.

Tenants sometimes remove sensitive smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher installed by the agency was stolen the next day and lighting fixtures have been ripped from the ceiling, he said.

Yet, even with adjustments and improvements with record keeping, the agency will likely remain on the troubled list without significant physical upgrades to its 10 properties, said Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the housing authority's board of commissioners.

"We've been through five years of underfunding. The reserves are limited; the properties are getting older, and those are factors that make it difficult to score well," McFall said. "We are redirecting and bringing in state and federal resources and private property managers. That's the only real cure for an aging inventory and inadequate federal resources."

Two of the oldest properties, College Creek Terrace and Obery Court, will be refurbished in the next few years. There are plans to select a third property for redevelopment. The agency is also considering transferring the management of some properties to private hands.

The relationship between the city and the agency, which manages the residences of about 2,200 people, remains strained.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer pointed to the strides the agency has made, including reopening several community centers, but noted the instability created by turnover in the top job. Five people have served as executive director in the last four years.

She said she would look into whether it is possible to include the agency's properties under the purview of the city's housing inspectors, yet she didn't know how that would work .

McFall has proposed such an arrangement in the past, she said, but it never went anywhere.

"If the mayor wants to reopen that discussion again I would welcome it," McFall wrote in an e-mail. "My own view is that the City should care as much about the conditions of public housing rental units in the City as they do any other rental unit in the City, all the rest of which they inspect and license."

Moyer said she planned to meet with with city staff and housing authority officials after she's reviewed the report.

She noted that the city provides $200,000 a year to the housing authority for secondary police patrols and has offered programming.

"They have tackled the infrastructure and made some good things happen, but there are no doubt some stresses and strains," she said. "But I'm not sure yet if it's a matter of dollars or if it's plainly not managed well with the dollars that they do have." nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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