Despite opposition from some public housing residents, the Annapolis City Council passed a resolution Monday that gives the city's housing authority approval to proceed with a plan to redevelop the Obery Court public housing complex.
The project, which would use more than $12 million in state, county and private funding, has drawn criticism from many public housing tenants, several of whom spoke out against the resolution at the City Council meeting before the vote.
The residents feared that after demolition and reconstruction of the rental units, some would not be able to move back, attributing their concerns in part to mistrust of housing authority officials, whom they say did not give them sufficient input in planning the project.
Eric Brown, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, assured the council that residents will be able to move back into Obery Court as long as they are in "good standing" and have followed the terms of their leases when they leave and return. He also contended that the housing authority has had "extensive discussions with the residents."
"We've tried our very best to keep the residents informed and involved," Brown told the council. "It would be a shame and a travesty to allow this not to pass."
The redevelopment will be a public/private partnership between the housing authority and Pennrose Properties, a Philadelphia-based development company that specializes in affordable housing. Pennrose is to manage the Clay Street neighborhood when the construction is finished.
The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in 14 months - 48 units will be torn down and 50 will be built, said Ivy Carter, who represented Pennrose at the meeting. Carter said the company has done similar projects in Baltimore and Hagerstown.
The new Obery Court neighborhood is to include a community center with a day care center and energy-efficient central air conditioning and heating in the units, along with other amenities, Carter said.
Some aldermen were conflicted by the resolution - although passing it could anger residents and leave them without the option to return to their homes, rejecting the resolution could have meant that investors would pull out of the deal, preventing a badly needed renovation to Annapolis public housing.
"I have been bombarded with telephone calls from residents," said Classie Gillis Hoyle, a Democrat who represents Ward 3.
To reconcile some of the council's concerns, members crafted an additional resolution that will require the housing authority to honor several stipulations: Within 30 days, authorities must provide the council with documentation laying out the project plans, public input will be solicited for future phases and residents must receive, in writing, a guarantee that they can return to the property if they are in good standing with the housing authority.
Several residents and others voiced worries about safety issues that could arise and about moving costs. Brown said residents will be moved to a "comfortable" temporary location while construction goes on.
Karen Jennings, who represented Annapolis' Green Party, said that the residents have not been treated fairly and that the process should be more transparent. Although the units need to be fixed, she said, the public should have had more input.
"I've been in many of those units, and I know that many of them are not fit for habitation," Jennings told the council.
Carl Gray, a 13-year tenant at College Creek Terrace, said that the process should be clear so that residents know what's going on.
"What I'd really like for them to do is put everything in writing. ... We need things in black and white," said Gray, 60.
Although it was not part of the resolution, the housing authority also has plans to build 14 homes intended for purchase by low- and moderate-income families, Brown said. So far, six families have qualified for that program, he said.
Arundel Habitat for Humanity will build those homes along Clay and Pleasant streets. Twenty College Creek units adjacent to the rental units will be demolished with $175,000 in grant money from the Community Legacy Program to make room for the new homes, according to a council staff paper on the redevelopment.
Felicia Wallace, an Annapolis Gardens resident for the past two years, said that although she doesn't live in Obery Court or College Creek Terrace, she is concerned about the effects the resolution could have on other public housing complexes in the future and the tension within neighborhoods that relocating residents may cause.
Carter told the council that residents' lack of trust in the housing authority is not uncommon.
"There is a long history of distrust between residents and public housing authorities," Carter said.
"These units that we're redeveloping will continue to be affordable. ... No one should be living in some of the units that are there now."
Carter said the redevelopment funds include $100,000 to be used toward support services for the residents.
Robert Eades, a community activist who has spoken out for years on behalf of public housing tenants, said that while residents want to see renovations made, they need assurance that they will be able to return.
"Everything that they're doing, the people never voted for, the people never wanted," said Eades, a former public housing tenant. "The people don't have any input on what they're doing in this community."