City and county officials, at odds a month ago, have agreed on a plan for dealing with public housing tenants who don't pay their rent.
What looked to be a potential housing crisis loomed last month after Patricia Croslan, director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, began enforcing a long-standing but mostly ignored law, and evicted 15 tenants who had missed four rent payments in a row.
Her intent was to reduce a mountain of unpaid rent bills at the authority and to appease paying tenants who said it was unfair that scofflaws were not punished.
But, when the evicted residents went to the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services for help, officials there sounded an alarm.
Used to referring people to Annapolis housing and not the other way around, the Social Services department made rent payments for December, but it warned that its slim budget would never cover 15 or more evicted families a month.
City officials worried that this apparent bureaucratic hot potato would worsen Annapolis' already burdensome homeless problem.
Last week, however, all the involved officials met and decided that early intervention was the answer.
The housing authority has agreed to send social services a list of families who have missed two rent payments so that quick action could be taken to connect them with community service agencies. The nonprofit Community Action Agency promised to offer counseling, assistance and possibly programs.
"It came down to communication," said Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson. "All of the folks involved recognized what they were doing. I think this can work if we all get involved early on."
For Croslan, the important thing was not to appear lax when it comes to rent payments. She began her crackdown in May to start to alleviate the more than $100,000 in debt from unpaid rent left after a decade-long period during which her predecessors had let people slide. She warned tenants of the "four-times-you're-out" policy before acting Dec. 1.
"If counseling can help them, that's terrific," she said about the compromise, "but they still have to pay their rent."
Croslan, who has been lauded for turning around the city's ailing department since she took over last year, reiterated last week that there is no excuse for not paying rent.
Public housing tenants are required to pay one-third of their monthly income, whether that be $25 or $600, she said.
"We cannot operate if people don't pay their rent," she said. "It's not fair for residents who struggle to make their payments. The one thing people asked of me when I came here was to be fair and apply the same rules to everyone."
Even the county is happy.
"The proposed resolution seems reasonable," said Carl O. Snowden, special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "It will lead to fewer evictions of tenants, tenants will pay rent and taxpayers won't be paying for it."
Of course, most officials noted, the next few months will determine if it works.
Pub Date: 1/17/99