HUD foreclosure move alarms residents of housing complex

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A federal government move to foreclose on a publicly subsidized townhouse complex with 232 units in Annapolis has left scores of low-income residents fearful of being displaced.

Federal housing officials said last week that the property had fallen into serious disrepair and failed two consecutive annual inspections, which led to their move to withdraw federal mortgage insurance.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes rents at the complex, which is owned by a nonprofit corporation controlled by residents.

Taking quick defensive action, residents retained Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano to represent the Bywater Mutual Homes Inc. board of directors in resisting the federal action. A preliminary meeting of federal housing officials and the residents board is set for Thursday, in an opening round of a long proceeding, both sides said.

Bereano denounced the looming foreclosure as designed to remove hundreds of "working poor" longtime residents out of a prime site in an upscale area that he characterized as "expensive, with a Gucci Safeway and a Starbucks."

"This foreclosure notice is heavy-handed and outrageous," Bereano said. "This property is about homeownership, which is national policy. So what is the real agenda? You don't foreclose over a broken sink."

Annapolis officials plan to attend this week's meeting.

"We're trying to get a handle on what the HUD report means," said Robert Agee, Annapolis city administrator. "City government is not involved, but we are trying to be as supportive as we can to residents."

The complex, near Forest Drive, is privately managed by Whetstone Co. and dates to the early 1970s.

James Kelly, HUD's Baltimore field office director, said safety and health violations, which he didn't specify, were severe enough to require sending letters to all residents last month telling them that HUD was moving to withdraw federally insured mortgages from the properties.

Kelly said most residents receive Section 8 financial assistance. He denied speculation that the agency was seeking to abandon residents to the free market and thus open up a desirable site for private development.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that they would be displaced and everyone has to move," Kelly said. "Our objective would be that residents stay in place with a continuing [Section 8] subsidy."

Kelly acknowledged that uncertainty would result if the foreclosure proceeds.

"I couldn't promise that possibility [displacement] wouldn't happen," he said.

Deneice Fisher, president of the residents board, said in a letter to an Anne Arundel County official that she disagrees with HUD's claim that the property is in substandard condition. Needed upgrades and repairs have been made in the past two years, she said.

Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens who represented Bywater Mutual Homes residents while an Annapolis alderman, said race and class issues made the HUD action appear to be a blow to social progress envisioned in the 1960s, when many public housing units were built.

"The loss of these units would do irreparable harm to the city and the county," Snowden said. "We cannot afford to lose affordable housing, and we will use every resource available to us to fight this. Most of the residents are low-income, working-class, predominantly African-Americans who have lived there for generations."

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