Moving to stave off the eviction of a 27-year-old single mother and her young son by a senior city housing official, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday that he will relocate the family from a rented rowhouse that city inspectors have called "dangerous."
It is a major test of the commissioner's resolve to clean up the fallout in the community from revelations that at least five of his housing officials own rundown rental properties in the city.
In the worst case uncovered, Henry John "Jack" Reed III -- a superintendent of inspections who is paid $46,000 a year to enforce the city's housing code -- has been cited for 391 code violations on 13 rental rowhouses he owns on the city's east side.
This week, he moved to evict the tenant of one of those houses after being hit with an emergency repair order by city inspectors. Armed with a court order, he is seeking to forcibly remove Shamira Ford and her 4-year-old son, Deonte, from their home in the 1700 block of N. Bradford St. for failure to pay back rent.
"No comment, period," Mr. Reed told Ms. Ford's minister and a Sun reporter at the house yesterday. "Is she out yet? You don't see her out yet, do you?"
Mr. Henson said later that the reason the family isn't out yet is because his agency alerted constables that the case is under review by his office and because city law prohibits evictions in foul or cold weather.
"I'm not taking sides on this," he said. "I understand that there may be some issue about her failure to pay rent, and there are usually three sides to every story. But we're not going to allow her to be evicted under these kind of circumstances. And my office is not going to allow her and her son to be put on the street. That's not going to happen."
Mr. Henson, who faces a reconfirmation hearing before the City Council tonight amid mounting allegations that top aides and enforcement officials in his administration have been operating slum properties in the city, said his staff is working to relocate Ms. Ford before she is put out by Mr. Reed.
"It's premature to say what she might be eligible for," Mr. Henson said. "But we will be doing a full assessment starting tomorrow."
The Rev. Milton Williams, Ms. Ford's pastor and first vice president of the Broadway East Community Association, said yesterday that he intends to testify in support of Mr. Henson's reconfirmation tonight because of his efforts to pursue those employees who own substandard houses.
Mr. Williams' neighborhood is the site of at least nine of the blighted properties. Among them is a rowhouse in the 2800 block of E. Biddle St. owned by Arthur D. Gray, an aide to Mr. Henson who was appointed to review contract proposals from companies seeking to do business in the city's $100 million federally funded empowerment zone.
"Commissioner Henson has assured me his office is working diligently to resolve Ms. Ford's dilemma," Mr. Williams said in an interview in the young mother's dining room. "I have all of my available people and resources moving to help this young woman, and I am confident that Commissioner Henson is doing the same."
His comments were interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Mr. Reed, demanding a key to the house so he can begin work on 29 housing code violations uncovered last week by city inspectors in the wake of a story in The Sun detailing health and safety deficiencies at his properties.
Time is running out for the landlord, who has been a city inspector for almost three decades.
The city has given him 15 days to fix all of the violations in his houses or face fines of up to $500 per day, per violation, and possible dismissal by the housing administration for dereliction of duty as a city inspector.
On Feb. 6, he was given 24 hours to make emergency repairs on a jerry-built heater exhaust vent that relied on an open hole in the basement wall to carry carbon gases out of the house. But he
failed to fix it for four days -- garnering him a summons to appear in District Court on charges of disregarding a city order, said housing spokesman Zack Germroth.
The charges carry fines of up to $500 per day.
Meanwhile, Mr. Reed has moved to enforce an eviction order that he obtained in Rent Court on Dec. 11 against Ms. Ford for failing to pay $1,100 in back rent.
"It came as a total surprise," she said yesterday. "The last time I spoke to him, I told him I was having all kinds of problems with the house and I was sorry for falling behind in the rent, but could we work it out. And he said, 'No problem, we'll get through this.'
"Then, this thing comes in the mail."