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HUD buys Uplands Apartments; to seek residents' input for plans

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development bought a sprawling low-income West Baltimore apartment complex at a foreclosure sale yesterday, setting the stage for a summer-long discussion of how the highly desirable site should be redeveloped.

Although officials of the federal housing agency said last week that there was considerable interest in the Uplands Apartments from private developers, HUD was the only bidder to show up at the foreclosure sale in front of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse downtown.

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HUD, which has operated the mostly vacant property for the past 2 1/2 years after the private owner defaulted on the federally backed mortgage, agreed to pay just under $10.2 million for Uplands - an amount equal to the outstanding debt on the approximately 50-acre site.

The federal agency intends to transfer the property, off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore County line, to the city for a nominal sum. But HUD agreed Friday to delay its plans to convey the property immediately to give current and former tenants a chance to comment on how they believe the site should be redeveloped.

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The agency agreed to the delay in response to a motion in federal court filed by the Legal Aid Bureau that sought unsuccessfully to postpone the foreclosure sale - in part because tenants were not adequately consulted beforehand on the disposition of Uplands, as required by federal law.

Hannah E. Lieberman, an attorney with Legal Aid, said she would talk to HUD officials this week about how the agency would consider the ideas and needs of the low-income Uplands residents.

"We certainly would expect that, consistent with its basic mandate, that HUD would use this as an opportunity to protect and preserve affordable housing in a way that provides for those needs," she said.

A HUD spokesman said the agency would continue to work to find replacement housing for the two dozen families that remain at the 900-unit complex, even as it sought input from them as well as former residents.

Under the terms of a preliminary contract negotiated with the city, HUD agreed that as much as 26 percent of the units built on the site could be market-rate, with the rest to be affordable.

During a two-day court hearing last week, Legal Aid lawyers pointed out that because HUD's definition of affordable housing in the metropolitan area is housing within reach of households making up to $53,840 a year, even the affordable units could be out of reach of the low-income current and former Uplands residents.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said last week that he anticipated asking HUD to reduce the percentage of affordable units on the site in response to preferences of leaders of the middle- and upper-income neighborhoods surrounding the site.

Yesterday, city Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said the needs of Uplands tenants and desires of surrounding communities would be considered during a master planning process to be conducted this summer by Boston-based Goody, Clancy & Associates, an architecture and planning firm.

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"We have always said that all stakeholders will be invited to participate in this process," Graziano said. "We have always considered residents to be stakeholders."

The city is preparing a request for proposals for demolition of Uplands, which contains units spread over dozens of buildings, Graziano said. "We'll be poised to do anything we need to do when the property is conveyed," he said.

William F. Eberhart Jr., president of Historic Franklintown, said "everyone's going to get heard" about the redevelopment of Uplands.


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