City housing agency considers hiring 3 private firms to oversee construction

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The city's housing authority is considering hiring three private firms to oversee public housing construction and renovation projects worth tens of millions of dollars over the next two years.

The companies would coordinate all aspects of the projects, including putting individual contracts out to bid, lining up architects and engineers, and arranging for permits.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City says the move would save the city money by putting experienced construction professionals in charge of projects, and having the companies assume the risk of work coming in late or over budget.

The plan, which the housing authority board will consider today, has been opposed by local contractors, who say it will raise costs for the housing authority and shut local and minority-owned businesses out of contracting opportunities.

A handful of the contractors picketed outside City Hall yesterday, carrying signs that read "HABC Gives Away Baltimore Jobs" and "Minority Contractors Lose ... Again."

Former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, chairman of the housing authority board, expressed concern about the proposal at a meeting a few weeks ago. But yesterday he said he felt reassured that plenty of work would still go to local and minority-owned firms. He also said that the city would not be able to meet court-ordered deadlines to provide new and renovated units unless it had help from the private firms.

"The pace is too slow," D'Alesandro said. "What we want to do is, we want to try to expedite that pace."

Until recently, the plan called for hiring two firms - Keating Building Corp. of Philadelphia and Skanska USA Building Inc. of Parsippany, N.J. - to manage $60 million in projects over two years. D'Alesandro said yesterday that the dollar figure had been lowered to $30 million and that a third firm, which he declined to identify, would be considered.

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