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Vacancy rate high in public housing


Major repair needs at some of Annapolis' 10 public housing communities have led to a high number of vacancies, prompting housing authority officials to turn to an outside contractor to speed up work.

Authority staff reported last week that 74 of the authority's 1,104 units were vacant, up from 48 vacancies in January. Members of the authority's board expressed concern that the agency wasn't taking in revenue on the units, and that units were sitting vacant while 500 people were on a waiting list.

"Vacancies are still at a high," said Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the authority's board. "It gets really painful. It hurts. And vacancies are a huge source of missing income."

Eric C. Brown, who was named executive director last fall, said staff discovered major repair needs after stepping up lease enforcement and evicting residents from nearly three dozen units.

When those residents left, Brown said, staff found that many units were so badly damaged that major renovations were required before renting them. "People had lived in the units for a long period of time, and there was water damage, flooring and plumbing damage, and in some cases walls had been removed," he said. "They were uninhabitable."

Brown said repairs average about $8,100. The agency is using money from a $6 million capital improvement bond to make repairs. Mid-Atlantic General Contractors is handling the repairs - they were too time-consuming for the agency's staff to complete, Brown said.

As of June 21, 32 units were in different stages of construction and 19 of those will be available for rent by the end of the month. The remaining units are being assessed, and there is no timetable for when they might be available.

Many of the empty units have three or more bedrooms, and the repair work can take three to five weeks. Thirteen vacancies at Obery Court and College Creek Terrace aren't likely to be filled, however, as both communities are slated for major redevelopment or renovation.

"Having the vacancies can cause a number of families to go without housing," Brown said. "And we lose money because nobody is occupying the unit."

Little preventive maintenance is being done in the units, but that will change in the next 2 1/2 months, Brown said.

When tenants have problems in their apartments, they call a central service site. In the future, there will be an on-site maintenance person. Inspections, now conducted irregularly, will be more common as well, Brown said.

McFall said the authority doesn't expect full occupancy and is placing an emphasis on more accountability.

"We'll always inherit some amount of damage, but we've allowed too much damage to go on," she said. "We need to get a more vigorous inspection of units so they aren't in such bad shape."

Normally, McFall said, the number of vacancies would be at around 50 units, noting that the record high is close to 90 units.

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