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Annapolis public housing community to get a makeover

Housing and Urban PlanningInterior PolicyPublic Housing

The Newtowne 20 public housing community in Annapolis is about to get a new life.

The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis has started the process to renovate or rebuild the aging 78-unit complex at the end of a dead-end street off Forest Drive.

The project is likely to cost at least $4 million and will be done in partnership with a nonprofit or for-profit company, as has been the case in other housing revitalization projects in Annapolis.

"This, physically, is our worst property," said Joseph S. Johnson, a former city police chief who is chief of staff and security for the housing authority.

Built in 1971, the brick townhouse-style buildings are starting to show their age. Many have cracked or crumbling foundations. Erosion is eating away at the sidewalks. Foot traffic has killed the grass. The community center is the size of a single classroom.

There's no place to buy matching roof shingles, so shingles from the rear of rooftops are used to patch the front. There's no insulation in the walls, only in the floors. Leaks and mold are so bad in 16 of the units that no one can live in them.

"It's a daily struggle just to keep up curb appeal," said Johnson on a recent morning as maintenance crews spread mulch and spray-painted bike racks in preparation for an inspection.

The housing authority's annual budget includes $1 million for maintenance and improvements across all communities. About $400,000 of that goes toward paying off bonds from previous projects.

With Newtowne's needs estimated at $4 million, the housing authority can't afford to fix it up.

The answer to Newtowne's woes won't be clear for several months, at least. The housing authority just issued a "request for qualifications" to get an idea of whether private companies or organizations are interested in participating. After getting feedback, there will be a more formal request for proposals a few months later.

The request seeks ideas for "comprehensive community revitalization" for Newtowne 20, which could run the gamut from renovations to rebuilding, possibly changing the number of units or even the configuration of the neighborhood — currently two cul-de-sac courts at the end of Newtowne Drive. Official say the revised neighborhood may include traditional public housing units as well as some market-rate units.

An outside partner could bring the ability to secure tax credits, government funding and low-interest bonds. Construction could take place in 2015 and 2016.

Mae Bridgers-Singleton is excited to see what comes next for Newtowne 20. A resident of the neighborhood for three years along with her two school-age grandchildren, she's vice president of the tenant council.

Taking a break from reading the Bible on her front patio this past week, Bridgers-Singleton said she helps plan community events and keeps an eye on trash in the neighborhood.

"I think the buildings should be torn down," she said, noting that they are old and many units lack access for handicapped residents.

She hopes the end result is a community of people with mixed incomes who care about keeping the place up. She also would like to see more trees and flowers.

The concept for Newtowne 20 is similar to recent revitalization projects carried out at Annapolis Gardens, Obery Court and College Creek Terrace, officials say. Annapolis Gardens was renovated in a partnership with Linthicum-based Landex Cos. Obery Court and College Creek Terrace — now moving to its final phase — were planned with Philadelphia-based Pennrose.

"We're looking at a host of different funding mechanisms," said Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the housing authority's board of directors.

Snowden said the housing authority has learned from some missteps with the previous projects. The removal of a basketball court at Annapolis Gardens, for example, angered many residents and spurred protests. He said he hopes those lessons will make the Newtowne 20 project go more smoothly.

Snowden and Vincent O. Leggett, executive director of the housing authority, discussed the Newtowne 20 redevelopment plans at last Monday's Annapolis city council meeting as part of a quarterly presentation to the mayor and aldermen.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, a Democrat whose district includes Newtowne 20, noted that it is one of the oldest pf the housing authority's properties.

"I'm really happy to hear you're working on Newtowne 20," she said.

Bridgers-Singleton said she plans to attend meetings about the Newtowne 20 project to make sure residents' voices are heard.

"Praise God, they say we're going to have a part in how they do it," she said.

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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