Insensitivity at Pinewood Gardens ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


The Anne Arundel County Housing Authority wants the elderly residents of Pinewood Gardens, a Glen Burnie public housing complex, to have separate bedrooms and more room to maneuver in their kitchens. What these seniors really need, however, is a little compassion and understanding.

Those qualities have been in short supply since the Housing Authority, which manages the county's federally subsidized housing, began renovating 96 Pinewood apartments last month. The authority didn't offer residents a choice, and worse, it didn't prepare them for the disruption. The seniors were asked to schedule an appointment to have their apartments painted. When workmen showed up days later, they didn't just paint; they started tearing walls apart. Most residents were horribly upset. The problems ranged from the construction dust, which posed a health hazard to some, to the emotional trauma of not being able to fit a sofa in one's reconfigured apartment.

Some of the residents of Pinewood Gardens are ill. Others, who once had spouses and homes full of lovely things, are lonely and disillusioned. All are poor -- an obvious fact that somehow eluded Circuit Court judges H. Chester Goudy Jr. and Robert H. Heller Jr. Each refused to grant four tenants' request for a stop-work injunction unless they posted bonds of $10,000 to $15,000 -- a ludicrous demand by the judges.

Is it asking too much of the courts to understand that it is unreasonable to ask people who qualify as indigent to put up $10,000 bonds? Is it asking too much of a federal agency that regulates housing for the elderly and that vowed to be more sensitive under the Clinton administration to remember that older people are resistant to change and upset by disruption? Is it asking too much for agency officials to remember that, subsidies aside, these apartments are people's homes? Of course not.

Pinewood Gardens is more than 20 years old and needs work. But there is no reason why every kitchen wall has to come down now. It's not a matter of meeting housing codes; whether the wall changes are even an improvement is a matter of opinion. Why not let the residents keep their walls if they like them and renovate the apartments as they become vacant? A more sensitive bureaucracy would have been that flexible.

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