Annapolis Gardens public housing residents challenge new rules

The private company managing an Annapolis public housing complex has imposed a series of rules that tenants and their lawyers contend are unfair, unclear and violate federal regulations.

The tenants of Annapolis Gardens are upset over provisions that bar large groups from congregating in many outdoor areas and make residents responsible for guests' behavior. They also question why property managers are requiring tenants age 10 and older to carry a photo identification in the complex or face being thrown off the property, and have set a $300 pet deposit that is four times higher than those charged at other city public housing developments.

The tension comes as a public-private partnership overhauls the 150-home complex at a cost of $20 million. An agreement between the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis and the Landex Cos. of Linthicum calls for Landex, the majority partner, to renovate the units and take over management of the community. When renovations are complete, half the units would be reserved for public housing, and half set aside for other low- and moderate-income residents.

The president of Landex, Judy Siegel, defended the provisions in an e-mail, noting that the lease and rules comply with public housing law, with many provisions the same as in other Landex properties or similar to other multifamily communities.

"Our goal for the community is to create an environment that is pleasant, peaceful, enjoyable and attractive  — a community where everyone respects their neighbors and works together to keep the community safe," she wrote.

But Deborah Johnson, president of the Resident Advisory Board for the housing authority's 1,100 units, said the rules are "too heavy-handed." While rules are needed, she said, the proposals create an atmosphere of a "legal concentration camp."

"Everything is a breach of lease," said Felecia Wallace, acting president of the tenants' council. Tenants have told her they don't want to return, expressing fear of being thrown out for breaches of the rules and because new policies don't accommodate a normal lifestyle, she said.

The Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and the ACLU plan to step in to assist tenants in the developing disagreement, and Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen said he, too, is willing to help reach an agreement. Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the housing authority, asked federal housing officials and the housing authority's lawyers last week to review the documents and partnership agreement. Snowden said Annapolis housing commissioners — several, like him, are fairly new — are unclear on what the agency's rights, responsibilities and potential liabilities are in the public-private venture."I don't know, and it's not a good situation to be in," he said.

"We intend to raise constitutional concerns over parts of the policy," said ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Curtis.

Federal housing regulations require that rules be developed "in consultation with the residents," said Jer Welter, a staff attorney at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau in Annapolis. The policies, he said, have not been submitted to tenants and open for a 30-day comment period, "and they have not been legally enacted."

Welter said that, "Overall, the rules themselves seem to be really designed to prohibit the residents from being able to congregate and form a sense of community."

The requirement for the photo ID, "is really going to be a problem," he said. "It is also going to result in harassment of invited guests."

Parents say they worry about the safety of children who could be forced off the property if they forget their IDs. Other rules may wrongly restrict free speech and affect a tenants' organization, Welter said.

He called the banning policy, designed to bar troublemakers from being there, "more arbitrary" than the housing authority's current one for its other properties that is in the midst of a legal challenge.

Siegel said the policies are designed to benefit the residents. All Landex properties require a $300 deposit for a pet. But she added that "we will be open to discussions and explanations about the rules."

Other tenants say Annapolis Gardens' more rigorous vetting practices resulted in them being told they can't move back. Siegel said those affected can appeal.

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