The final chapter of the Kingsley Park saga begins this week as more than 100 residents move from their dilapidated apartments in eastern Baltimore County to new homes.
By next month, the county will own the property and by late fall hopes to have all 285 families in safer residences. Officials will then begin plans to demolish the squat, World War II-era buildings and begin a community of affordable housing and residences for senior citizens.
If they qualify, Kingsley residents can obtain federal housing vouchers, while the county government will underwrite moving and utility expenses. County leaders hope to have all 285 families moved before winter because of the complex's faulty heating system.
Some in county government will be relieved because the job of shutting down Kingsley Park's 311 apartments took 12 years, a period of often-contentious dealings between the county and property owner Judith S. Siegel of Landex Corp.
Timothy M. Kotroco, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management, said two public meetings held last week for residents and civic leaders were helpful in moving toward shutting down Kingsley Park.
"You could hear it in people's voices," Kotroco said. "It was a failed federal program where the high concentration of poverty proved a recipe for failure. Kingsley Park was so old and obsolete. We'll go from what stands now to building a new place for people to live, with a productive tax base."
"I will just be glad to put it behind us," said Mary L. Harvey, director of the county Office of Community Conservation.
Under a deal brokered by Kotroco and others in government, the county will pay Siegel $2.2 million. The settlement is part of an agreement that will transfer ownership of the 18-acre property on Old Eastern Boulevard to the county. The county will also assume about $500,000 to $600,000 in back payments for utilities and other bills.
Although Kingsley Park residents privately express trepidation about moving to new homes, most are more than willing to say good riddance to their apartments. Federal and county housing inspectors documented scores of housing code violations, including missing interior walls, heavy rodent and roach infestation, and malfunctioning refrigerators and stoves.
"Even to the end, the apartment management won't come around to fix problems in the apartments," said Tina Franks, a single mother who has lived in Kingsley Park for four years. "People have horror stories about rodents, but I didn't have that problem - I have four cats."
At the meeting last week for residents in the basement of a local church, the complaints continued about Landex Corp. not responding to complaints from renters.
One woman told of a snake crawling into her apartment. Another described a pipe burst.
Siegel did not respond to several calls to her Baltimore office.
Harvey said that as part of the east-side renaissance started in the mid-1990s, four run-down or obsolete apartment complexes, comprising nearly 2,000 units, have been demolished.
"Like at Riverdale and Tall Trees, the residents of Kingsley Park do not realize they can live in a better place, but better days are ahead for them," Harvey said, adding that others in Kingsley Park are prepared to move in October and November, when units become available.
She said the county has allocated $750,000 for moving expenses, utility hookups and security deposits at their new homes. Kingsley Park residents can take $5,250 if they do not accept, or are ineligible for, the federal housing vouchers.
County workers have also been transporting Kingsley Park residents to inspect new housing in the metropolitan area.
"We are committed to finding everyone a home," Harvey said.