The major villains in the sordid story of the Bay Ridg Gardens apartments in Annapolis are owners Angelo Munafo and John Pica Sr. But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city of Annapolis also bear a share of blame because they ignored the owners' neglect for too long.
The decline of Bay Ridge has been no secret. The low-income apartments, built in the 1970s, have been going downhill for years.
While the owners were more than diligent about collecting rents and taking advantage of tax breaks, they put nary a dime into the routine maintenance needed to keep any property fit for habitation.
Where has HUD been all this time? The agency subsidizes the rents of some Bay Ridge tenants, yet it didn't even know about the horrendous conditions until January.
Annapolis officials' chief mistake was in being too conciliatory with the owners for too long. Every time the owners were cited for building code violations, they were allowed to get away with cheap solutions that just barely met the code and did nothing to stop overall deterioration. To its credit, the city refused to accept stop-gap remedies after an inspection last fall revealed more than 600 code violations.
Still, they should have gotten much tougher long ago.
Because no one did, residents continue to suffer with intolerable living conditions, as well as with the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds.
The possibilities range from the owners' declaring bankruptcy, to renovations by HUD, to a sale of the property. Though the city has promised residents they will not have to move out, no matter what, the fear that they'll end up homeless is very real.
The best thing that could happen would be for the complex to be bought by a company that specializes in renovating low-income properties. The city has already solicited proposals from some of these firms, whose track records are proven in Annapolis. For instance, the Boston Heights apartments, which were in far worse shape than Bay Ridge, are now attractive and safe, thanks to one of these companies.
Unfortunately, a sale won't happen overnight, which means a bad situation that residents have endured for too long will drag on longer still.