Community upgrades set

Some fear move will displace public housing tenants

August 03, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,SUN REPORTER

The Annapolis housing authority added two more neighborhoods to its redevelopment list this week in a plan that calls for setting aside homes for ownership - a move that has some residents fearing permanent displacement.

Annapolis Gardens and Bowman Court, off Admiral Drive, will see major renovations, increased security and improved landscaping by mid-2009.

The agency plans to redo two Clay Street public housing communities by 2014. It expects to rehabilitate College Creek Terrace and raze and rebuild Obery Court.

While residents of Annapolis Gardens and Bowman Court say they welcome upgrades, the plans for redevelopment and set-asides for home ownership have stirred fears among some residents that they will be displaced.

"I would like for them to remodel them, yes, but to take away some units, I don't understand that," said Esther Sharps, president of the tenant's council of Annapolis Gardens. "Where are all these people supposed to go? Elderly people, people on fixed incomes? Where else can they live? We want to keep our own places."

Some Bowman Court residents said they have long been neglected and are receptive to having their 33-year-old neighborhood upgraded.

"We need grass. We need new windows, everything has to be redone in Bowman Court," said Sonji Brown, who has lived in the shabby complex for 18 years. "This place looks like the ghetto."

But Trudy McFall, outgoing chairwoman of the agency's board of commissioners and an adviser for the development projects, said the changes are a step in the right direction and that the work will be done in phases to minimize displacement of residents.

"This is a good step for the housing authority," she said. "It's a good model for trying to fix what ails public housing in Annapolis."

About 20 percent of housing authority residents could qualify to buy homes, according to agency officials, and the housing authority is looking to capitalize on that idea.

The model for each project calls for a mix of privately owned homes in combination with private management firms conducting routine property maintenance.

The management firms probably will do more careful monitoring and enforcement of unauthorized occupants and visitors, something that the agency has not always done, McFall said.

The housing authority will join with Arundel Habitat for Humanity in a move to rehabilitate six units in Annapolis Gardens and 10 in Obery Court and sell them.

The group provides no-interest, 30-year mortgages to families with incomes between $17,000 and $35,000, depending on household size.

McFall said if the partnership is successful, up to 40 more homes could be similarly set aside in the Clay Street communities. The Clay Street communities have 164 units.

"Public housing is not an entirely functional communal environment and having stable residents there who are homeowners is a huge advantage," said Anne Rouse, Arundel Habitat for Humanity's deputy director. The emphasis on home ownership worries some.

"This is part of gentrification and the downsizing of public housing to try to get rid of poor people," Robert H. Eades, a community activist, said. "Under this new management system, a lot people might not be able to come back."

Annapolis Gardens, built in 1961, and Bowman Court, constructed in 1974, are home to about 400 residents.

The renovation project for the 150 units in the two communities includes the expansion of the community center, better lighting and fences.

Under the Clay Street plan, Obery Court will be replaced with a park, garden and an undetermined number of new apartments and townhouses.

College Creek Terrace, which has 108 units built in 1940, will be refurbished. Officials said that up to 60 units would be for seniors.

About 300 residents live in the aging Clay Street properties. A preliminary report estimated the redevelopment project would cost at least $7 million.

During the renovation phases, residents will be shifted to other properties or given Section 8 vouchers to use toward rentals elsewhere.

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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