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Residents unite for better living conditions

A group of residents at the embattled Kingsley Park housing complex in eastern Baltimore County met yesterday to form a tenant association while officials and the corporate landlord wrestle over the future of the property.

Representatives of the county Legal Aid office, attorneys Emily Rody and Susan Tannenbaum, advised the residents to place rent payments in escrow to demand quicker and better repairs on their World War II-era apartments.

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Many of the 300 residents are concerned about how much longer Kingsley Park will remain a subsidized complex funded through a contract with corporate landlord Landex Corp. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Residents have complained about drug-related violence in the complex and a failure by Landex to properly repair broken heating systems, leaking gas, holes in walls and falling ceilings.

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A majority of the apartments have no air conditioning or window screens and get extremely hot in summer. During the winter, residents said they turn on their ovens for warmth because of malfunctioning heating systems.

Judy Siegel, president of Landex, has told County Executive James T. Smith Jr. she wants to redevelop the property on which sit 312 apartments, many badly in need of repair and infested with rodents. Siegel is awaiting approval by HUD to refinance redevelopment of the property.

"We are hopeful that the Kingsley Park issue will be settled by the end of the year," Tannenbaum said. She assured residents that all will have Section 8 housing vouchers, no matter the outcome, and will have homes in the future.

One resident who is demanding better living conditions is Barbara Thomas of Gail Road.

She was sitting in her one-bedroom apartment July 27 when the living room ceiling collapsed, struck her in the head and knocked her unconscious.

Thomas is receiving medical care for the injury and has retained an attorney, Gary Bowen of Rosedale.

"Clear and simple, this is a case of negligent maintenance and failure to repair," Bowen said. "She had notified management about the problem and they did nothing about it."

"We are certainly going to file suit," Bowen said.

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After residing in Kingsley Park for 31 years, Helen Schuhart, 80, moved this year, seeking a more comfortable and safer home along nearby Martin Boulevard.

"My building was full of druggies and drunks, sometimes asleep against the front door and I couldn't push them out of the way to leave," she said yesterday at the meeting at the St. Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church at Back River Neck Road and Old Eastern Boulevard.

"The laundry room was used as a sex parlor, we had to clean up used condoms to do our wash," she said. "You would call the police, they'd say call the management. You'd call management and they would tell you to call the police."

According to officials, Kingsley Park has been crime-ridden for years. Police Department records show that about 400 hours are spent weekly by officers from the Essex Precinct on calls to Kingsley Park.

That law enforcement coverage, officials said, costs the county $1,000 daily.

Siegel and others at Landex have contended that the residents are primarily to blame for the conditions in the apartments and for the crime.

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Smith, following the lead of predecessor C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, wants to continue to decrease the density of low-income housing on the east side.

For Kingsley Park resident Lisa Butt, one of the troubling questions about the complex she lives in is how Landex passed hundreds of apartment inspections.

"The county comes in and approves these places before a new tenant moves in but why, how can they pass inspection?" Butt said. "All Kingsley Park does is create huge profits for the landlord."

By modest estimates, Landex receives about $2.3 million annually through subsidized housing.

At yesterday's meeting, attended by 13 tenants, Butt said lots of residents are single mothers, some work and others are elderly.

"Myself, I almost didn't make the meeting because I found two roaches crawling in my daughter's crib. ... I couldn't sleep after that," she said.


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