The Housing Authority of Baltimore City is hiring more than 80 people — including 50 additional maintenance workers — as part of a sweeping plan to address long overdue repairs at thousands of city public housing units, housing chief Paul T. Graziano announced Monday.
Graziano said 50 new "maintenance technicians" will be qualified to do basic repairs involving carpentry, painting, plumbing and electrical work. As part of an overhaul of its maintenance system, the housing authority also is hiring two new administrators, 10 property managers and 20 additional workers to handle heating and cooling problems, perform quality-control checks or supervise staff.
"We have undertaken a top-to-bottom review" of maintenance issues, Graziano said, pledging that the extra staffing and organizational changes would "enhance the quality of life for public housing residents."
The Baltimore Sun reported this month that shoddy, incomplete and overdue repairs are common among the 11,000 units maintained by the housing authority. Authority records showed more than 4,000 requests for repairs had gone unanswered for at least 30 days — and in some cases for more than a year. The investigation found that some outstanding repairs involved matters critical to health and safety, such as leaky toilets, falling-down sinks, clogged bathtubs, and windows and doors with broken locks.
Graziano was joined by union officials, tenants and a dozen maintenance workers for the announcement Monday afternoon at housing authority headquarters. He said the agency is looking for the new maintenance technicians, who must be able to perform "a whole range of repairs in a unit and not have two or three different people come in to do the work." The jobs will pay $46,000 to $53,000 a year, he said.
The authority will continue to employ workers skilled at specific trades, such as electricians, pipefitters, carpenters and masons, he said.
The new workers will join a maintenance staff of about 310. Graziano said the additional staff will be paid for through expected efficiencies and the elimination of some vacant positions. Officials could not immediately provide a total cost for the new positions.
Later Monday, Graziano deflected questions from City Council members during an investigative hearing on a federal lawsuit over allegations that maintenance workers at three complexes demanded sexual favors as a condition for making repairs.
"I cannot discuss any of the matters around this litigation," Graziano told a council committee, citing coming settlement talks and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general. "That will be discussed in the appropriate forum."
The Housing Authority has said it will begin settlement talks with 20 women, who are seeking more than $10 million each. Some tenants at Gilmor Homes, Westport and Govans Manor have been denied needed repair work for months as a result of the sex-for-repairs scheme, the suit contends.
At Graziano's earlier news conference, Ella Broadway, president of the authority's Resident Advisory Board, said members are pleased with the promised changes in the maintenance department. She said the board would work with residents to encourage them to do more to help in the upkeep of the complexes.
Union leader Glenard S. Middleton praised Graziano for creating the technician positions, saying they will offer a "middle-class" living. He said the union remains concerned about the potential for the housing authority to reduce its maintenance staff and pledged to stay vigilant.
Graziano said maintenance workers on staff now will be able to receive training and apply for the technician positions. "We hope and expect a large number of people will go for the promotional opportunity," Graziano said.
The additional positions are part of a larger plan to overhaul the work order system, a process Graziano says has been underway for months. That includes enabling tenants to request repairs themselves using their smartphones, home computers or kiosks at the complexes. They will be able to use the same system to check on the status of their request.
Tenants will still be able to ask staff to create the work order for them.
As part of the changes, maintenance workers will receive their work assignments on hand-held devices and a quality-control team will review maintenance records and do random checks of completed works.