Faced with the struggle to find place to call home

During World War II, an apartment complex called Berkeley East sprouted in quiet Middle River in Baltimore County to help accommodate a sudden boomtown of defense workers. Four decades later, the development was sold, converted into a property for hundreds of poor families and renamed Kingsley Park.

Almost exclusively a federally subsidized housing complex run by a Baltimore company, Kingsley Park fell into decay, with tenants complaining of rodents crawling into their infants' cribs, of crumbling ceilings and walls, and of drug dealers working along Kingsley's two streets, making gunshots part of the nighttime soundtrack.


Now - as a federal judge says more needs to be done to move Baltimore's poor to Baltimore County and other suburbs - Kingsley Park is about to be demolished.

Tomorrow, construction equipment is to begin tearing down Kingsley's 312 apartments.


Kingsley Park is an area where the Moving to Opportunity program to move the poor from the city was shouted down a decade ago and where, more recently, an ambitious revitalization effort has been launched.

The apartment complex is set to share the fate of three other east-side housing complexes that became so dilapidated and crime-ridden that they were razed.

As U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis looks for ways to give the city's poor broader housing options, many of the former tenants of the ill-fated complexes have been dispersed throughout Baltimore County, according to officials.

From Kingsley Park, where only a few remained last week, nearly 300 families have been relocated to new Section 8 housing, some out of state, but most choosing to remain on the east side, county officials say.

"Kingsley's residents were the poorest of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly who were trapped and couldn't go anywhere else," said Jackie Nickel, a longtime community leader and author of a historical work on Middle River.

"The whole question of giving people a chance, a safe and nice place to live, is immensely important," she said. "We as a society should embrace this problem, blend the needy into all neighborhoods - not just on the east side, not just in Baltimore County, but all neighborhoods."

Nearly geographically surrounding the city, Baltimore County has no public housing. Instead, Baltimore County officials said nearly 6,000 people receiving U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers reside primarily in the county's eastern and western rims. And there is a waiting list of 10,000 people who want to have a government-subsidized home; the waiting period can be three years.

Revitalization plans


Starting in the late 1990s, other crime-ridden and dilapidated apartment complexes were razed. They were Riverdale Village, Villages of Tall Trees and Chesapeake Village. Most of those displaced residents elected to move to other locations in Baltimore County, officials said.

Kingsley Park and the other former apartment complexes are sites for current or future new housing developments and public parks, part of a revitalization of Essex, Middle River and Dundalk, along with some communities on the county's western end.

"It was great housing for its day," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., referring to when some of the 50,000 wartime workers at the Glenn L. Martin airplane factory lived in Kingsley Park. "It became a concentration of poverty."

Mary L. Harvey, director of the county Office of Community Conservation, said that when she lived at Kingsley Park in the 1980s, it was still a "working-class neighborhood." Later, after the complex was sold to a company under a HUD program, it was renovated, she said.

But, she added, "Renovations stopped, the buildings deteriorated and the owner was not able to keep up with repairs."

County officials and residents said the owner, Judith S. Siegel of Landex Corp., did not reinvest her profits from the HUD contract into replacing worn furnaces, interiors and appliances. Siegel said then that Kingsley Park had become obsolete and that refurbishing the apartments would have been too costly.


Siegel, who has also charged that county officials wanted her gone so developers could rebuild the Kingsley site, did not respond to requests for comment.

In recent years, officials said, police officers spent up to 400 hours in Kingsley Park each week, responding to calls for assistance and trying to catch drug dealers, who often intimidated residents.

Closing Kingsley

Conditions at Kingsley Park were eventually brought to the attention of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who helped nudge HUD to join in the effort to close the complex.

"I heard numerous complaints about the deplorable living conditions at Kingsley Park," Mikulski said in a written statement this week. "Today, Essex is about renaissance and revitalization; it's going to be a safe community again with affordable housing."

Closing Kingsley Park didn't come cheaply. In addition to about $2 million for relocation of residents, demolition and grading, the county struck an agreement last year with Siegel, who had owned Kingsley since the late 1980s.


Under the terms of the deal, approved by HUD, the county paid Siegel $2.2 million. The county also assumed about $500,000 to $600,000 in delinquent utility bills, and HUD assumed ownership.

Once the agreement was completed, the county purchased Kingsley Park from HUD for $10.

After the complex is razed, the 18-acre site will be redeveloped into senior housing and moderately priced single-family homes that will, officials hope, attract young families.

While county officials have drawn praise from some quarters for starting to redevelop communities such as Essex and Middle River, others find that the same officials have not been aggressive enough to make more housing options available to the poor.

"The low-income housing plan in Baltimore County seems to be a bulldozer," said Lauren Siegel, a social worker and vice president of the board of Baltimore County-based Innterim Housing Corp. "It's not a bad idea to tear down dilapidated housing, but if you don't replace those units one-for-one, that strategy has many pitfalls.

"People in Baltimore County government seem to be locked in a very limited way of thinking when it comes to housing - us, the county, and them, the city," said Siegel, who said she is not related to the Landex owner.


Looking ahead

As officials prepared for the razing of Kingsley Park, residents like Dawn Arnold pondered their futures. Arnold, a 32-year-old single mother with a 2-year-old son, was one of the last to leave Kingsley's worn landscape last week.

She said she has been unable to find a new home because she has no transportation and her telephone was disconnected.

"Kingsley was filled with people like me, the bottom rung of the ladder," said Arnold, who cleans houses for a living. "I was one of the last ones stuck here, but I hope I can eventually get my feet back on the ground, maybe get a townhouse, start life again."