The executive director of Annapolis’s housing authority pleaded with the City Council on Monday night to de-escalate their “adversarial relationship,” and called on the council to reform inspection procedures, provide more funding for upkeep and drop a lawsuit filed against the authority last month.
Melissa Maddox-Evans, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, came before the council with the intent of presenting a quarterly report, but her testimony touched off nearly 90 minutes of impassioned discussion and traded accusations, marking the most public conversation about the legal, logistical and financial problems facing the housing authority in years.
The only points everyone could agree on: Communication must improve and residents of Annapolis deserve better.
“What you are saying loud and clear is we need more dialogue, we need more face time.” Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett said. “Some of the things are off the table because of the litigation.”
Because the housing authority and the city are both defendants in multiple lawsuits brought by residents and their families, and have filed cross-claims against each other, they have limited options for open dialogue. Last month, the city asked a federal judge to consider placing the housing authority in federal receivership, an extreme step currently reserved for only three other housing authorities in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Receivership would lead to the replacement of Maddox-Evans and her board with either federal or court-appointed administrators.
“There has to be some medium,” Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay said. “It has come to a point of almost no return. I can understand your frustration and the city’s frustration. I don’t know where the forum is where we can discuss this. Maybe they do need to drag all nine of us to court so we can talk with you.”
In her report and testimony, Maddox-Evans laid out both a series of complaints against the city and reasons why the housing authority lacks the funding to make improvements. Among her challenges:
- A rent collection rate of just 64% so far in fiscal 2022.
- Federal and state safe harbor guidelines that prevent enforcing lease requirements while tenants are seeking rent relief.
- The difficulty of enforcing rent payments for units that have failed city inspections and are not granted a full-year license once they pass.
- Increased rate of condemned units (seven in the past four months).
- A “punitive inspection process.”
- Reduced staffing due to lack of revenue.
- Increased litigation costs.
- Jeopardized federal grant funding because of the receivership request.
- Lack of direct funding streams from the city.
Council members pushed back against several claims made by Maddox-Evans. Ward 7 Alderman Rob Savidge, whose day job includes inspecting stormwater drainage systems in Anne Arundel County, pointed out that the city’s inspectors only make extra work for themselves when they condemn a unit.
“It is not in their interest to condemn a property for one little speck of mold or one mouse,” Savidge said.
Multiple council members questioned Maddox-Evans about ongoing issues with rodents at several housing authority properties. During the public comment period, resident Apriel Dorsey lamented that her family has been living out of hotel rooms since Nov. 1 because her unit was condemned for a mouse infestation.
Alderman Gay also noted that because the council’s Housing and Human Welfare committee has held a series of hearing aimed at landlord accountability, many property management companies are facing additional scrutiny, not just the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis. Gay hopes that corrects the perception that the city inspectors target the housing authority.
“We have communities that are not HACA that have had issues for years come before our committee,” Gay said. He added, however, that the committee is working to codify standards and procedures for condemning units.
“That is something that needs to be addressed,” he said.
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The council meeting came one week after Maddox-Evans made a similar plea before the Caucus of African American Leaders of Anne Arundel County and a week before the housing authority and the city are scheduled to host a joint design charrette for potential renovation projects at Harbor House and Eastport Terrace, communities that are nearly 70 and 60 years old, respectively, and include nearly half of the 800 units under the housing authority.
The city and housing authority already have received nearly $500,000 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to plan the renovations. They are now competing for $50 million in Choice Neighborhood Initiative Funding for the project and must submit plans by 2024. Requests that the courts place the housing authority in receivership and the ongoing adversarial legal relationship, however, may jeopardize the chances of the housing authority and city receiving the funding, Maddox-Evans said.
“I do not understand why anyone would want to disrupt the progress that we are making,” she said.
At the charrette, which is a meeting of stakeholders in an attempt to resolve conflicts and find paths forward, a team from EJM Consultants will guide city leaders and housing authority homes residents through a discussion of what improvements they’d like to see in their communities. The goal, Maddox-Evans said, is engaging the public in a process.
Eastport United Methodist Church, located at 926 Bay Ridge Ave., will host the gathering, which is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Monday. Food will be provided.