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Annapolis housing authority board OKs police substation in Robinwood, Harbour House

The Annapolis housing authority board approved Tuesday two residential units be converted into police substations to curb an increase in violent crime and drug-related activities in the Robinwood and Harbour House communities.

The facilities — described as Community Resource Centers — will be open “as soon as possible,” said Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson.

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Police officers may use the spaces to “meet with residents, other officers, [housing authority] staff members to conduct investigatory work, and to conduct outreach activities and for no other purpose whatsoever,” according to the lease agreement approved unanimously by the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis Board of Commissioners Tuesday evening.

The goal is to increase public safety and access to social programs while curbing criminal activity, said Annapolis housing authority Executive Director Melissa Maddox-Evans.

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The stations will be filled by the Annapolis Police Department Neighborhood Enforcement Team on 10-hour shifts on alternating schedules — Wednesday through Saturday one week, Tuesday through Friday the next week. The department’s reentry program will also operate out of the stations from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The city’s community services and No Harm teams will be present throughout the week as well.

Some of the social programs include workforce development, eviction prevention, childcare, food insecurity, substance abuse prevention and mental health, according to the lease.

The city won’t pay any rent to the housing authority but will be responsible for paying for all utilities and maintenance on the properties. Housing authority staff will still have full access to both units, according to the lease.

Plans for the substations were made public in August after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal entity that oversees the housing authority, approved the two units for non-residential use. That designation lasts until Aug. 2, 2023. The housing authority will automatically renew the lease with the city each year in line with the city’s fiscal year which begins July 1, according to the resolution.

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Around the same time the housing authority, which is a separate entity from the city, employed a Landover-based private security company, Blue Line Security Services, to patrol its properties. Annapolis police will work in conjunction with the private company, Jackson said.

City Council members have questioned the plans for increased police presence at the properties. Jackson emphasized that the spaces won’t be used as holding cells but as a foothold to effect change in the communities.

“We have to have a strong presence there,” Jackson said.

When asked what a successful deployment of that program looks like, he said, “I define success as not finding used syringes on the streets for our children ... when our playgrounds aren’t overrun by drug dealers in playgrounds or parents not worrying about gun violence erupting suddenly.”

Eviction moratorium delayed

An impending eviction crisis among public housing residents has been temporarily delayed until at least the end of March thanks to President Joe Biden’s administration announcing last week it had extended a federal evictions ban.

Maddox-Evans has been sounding the alarm on the growing number of families who have fallen behind on their rent payments since the pandemic began. In December, she warned that more than 40% of public housing families were at risk of eviction if something wasn’t done. As of Tuesday, about 265 families remain in rent arrears, she said.

The City of Annapolis has responded by holding a series of financial and educational workshops, which didn’t draw as many residents as the city hoped, but some of those who did attend entered into repayment plans.

Despite her continued attempts to urge residents who are behind on rent to enter into repayment plans, just 49 families had done so as of December, Maddox-Evans said. Nineteen of those have already fallen behind on their repayment plans.

Currently, the housing authority has almost $510,000 in outstanding rent, which has forced Maddox-Evans to reevaluate budget priorities, she said, including not filling staff positions, and withholding merit increases for employees. The agency has sought other means of recouping unpaid rent such requiring residents to be in good financial standing before they are eligible to transfer to other units, including units that will be redeveloped.

Still, the housing authority has plowed ahead with plans to redevelop its properties. A groundbreaking for Newtowne 20 is planned for the first week of March and the agency is securing financing to redevelop Morris H. Blum Apartments, she said.

The housing authority has even sought help from the state of Maryland. They have entered into a partnership with the Central Collection Unit, which is responsible for collecting delinquent debts from state residents. Starting in the 2021 tax year, public housing residents who owe back rent will start to see their tax returns garnished. The Central Collection Unit, housed in the Department of Budget and Management, charges a 17% fee on every claim it receives.

“It was one of the things we would rather not do,” Maddox-Evans said. “But it is something that we have to do in order to protect our agency.”

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