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Annapolis moves against complex Bay Ridge owners get time to repair


Annapolis city officials moved yesterday to condemn a dilapidated, low-income apartment complex that has been neglected for years.

Although the city began condemnation proceedings, officials delayed posting a notice to give investors that own Bay Ridge Gardens a final opportunity to start fixing faulty electrical wiring and other safety hazards.

"We're very concerned about the safety of the units," said Russell Morgan, chief of the Bureau of Inspections and Permits. "We want to get this moving."

Frustrated by what they consider the landlords' inadequate response to a March 1 deadline, city officials warned again yesterday that they want an overhaul of the worn, 198-unit complex off Bay Ridge Avenue.

But Mr. Morgan and Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins emphasized that none of the 130 families living at Bay Ridge Gardens would be forced to relocate immediately.

Loose plastic flaps in broken windows, fire doors are stuck shut and electrical wires hang loose in the collection of low-rise brick buildings in Eastport. Housing inspectors uncovered 600 violations there, including faulty plumbing, corroded wiring and leaking gas stoves, this winter.

For many residents of Bay Ridge Gardens, the blizzard that pelted the Eastern Seaboard with sleet and snow over the weekend caused safety problems.

One woman was forced to shut off her electricity after water seeped through the bulging ceiling and soaked exposed wires, said Alderman Theresa DeGraff, a Republican who represents the area. Another resident complained that the wind blew through a hole in the wall and extinguished the stove's pilot light.

A 23-year-old mother of two told a reporter that she kept the oven on with the door open Saturday to heat her apartment.

"This has been going on for months and months, and I find it unconscionable," Ms. DeGraff said. A third of the apartments at Bay Ridge Gardens are empty. The partners in the ownership group -- Angelo Munafo of Cam Construction Co. in Timonium and John Pica Sr., the father of state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore -- want to sell the property, Mr. Morgan said.

But they also sent him a letter warning that they might file for bankruptcy. Neither returned phone calls yesterday.

Even if the city condemns the property, families living there will not have to pack their bags and leave, Mr. Morgan said. The city hopes the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would pay for renovating the complex if that happens.

"Every precaution will be taken to make sure that they won't be put out on the street," Mr. Morgan said.

The residents would not be relocated unless all attempts to renovate the property while they remain fail. This is the first time the city has threatened to condemn an apartment complex since it forced Boston Heights to close in 1989.

Shelter Properties Corp., a Baltimore company that specializes in turning around troubled low-income housing, took over managing Bay Ridge Gardens in August. Managers have patched roofs and swept the stairwells clean, but said they cannot make more substantive repairs without help from the owners.

The regional office of HUD in Baltimore has offered to match a $100,000 donation from the landlords to begin the electrical work, said Larry Hatcher, a HUD spokesman.

Bay Ridge Gardens was a well-kept, stable community when it was built with low-income federal loans in the early 1970s. But over the years, maintenance slipped and drug dealers moved in.

"There are people who are working two jobs to pay $400 a month in rent, and they're told they can't get any repairs," Ms. DeGraff said. "Give me a break."

Housing advocates warned yesterday that residents would have a tough time finding inexpensive apartments to rent in Annapolis. The city has limited low-income housing and there is little available space in public housing, where 6,000 of the city's 32,000 residents already live.

"These people all need to sit down and talk to each other because the part of HUD stepping in is not going to happen overnight," said Rikki Spears, a community organizer with the Maryland Low-Income Housing Information Service, who is working with families in Bay Ridge Gardens.

Anyone seeking help can call the service at 727-4200.

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