Public housing residents await repair of first one after 3 years

The 5-foot-deep craterlike sinkhole outside an Annapolis public housing building is filled with large white rocks to keep it from expanding.

Three years after it formed and months after Annapolis Housing Authority officials said they were trying to get money to repair the hole, it is still eliminating dozens of parking spots for residents of the Glenwood high-rise, all of whom are elderly or disabled.

Now, the sinkhole has a little brother: A second one has formed in the rear of the parking lot that circles the 154-unit building.

The large sinkholes - which are surrounded by fences - have rendered half of the lot's parking spaces off-limits to residents.

More than an eyesore, residents say, the sinkholes are emblematic of the city Housing Authority's failure to heed residents' concerns about safety and inconvenience.

"What are they going to do, wait until the building falls until they give us some help?" asked Phyllis Gibbs, a Glenwood resident and a member of the Housing Authority board.

Eric Brown, executive director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, which oversees 10 communities, did not return several calls this week seeking comment.

In July, Brown said it would cost nearly $2 million to repair the first sinkhole and that work could not begin until funding for the project was found.

Brown said the agency's budget, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, would not allow for such an expenditure in the immediate future.

At that time, he said the first hole - which is 18 feet wide - wasn't threatening the building's structural integrity.

Over the past two years, Brown said, the agency has spent nearly $850,000 in HUD funds on engineering, patches and a fence to put around the sinkhole.

Brown has requested $600,000 in funding from the city to repair the federally owned and operated building, a request that Mayor Ellen O. Moyer called a "major unbudgeted capital program" in a letter to Brown dated Aug. 23.

Ray Weaver, a spokesman for Moyer, said the mayor is concerned about the inconvenience suffered by Glenwood residents.

Housing officials have not communicated adequately their efforts to acquire other funding for the project, he said.

"We're very concerned," Weaver said. "It's turned into a major issue. It's a problem that needs to be addressed. But it's not one we need to address on our own. The people that should be sitting down and talking to us are walking away from a meeting.

"We don't have $600,000 in our budget to fix this. We'd have to look for it. And the question is, are they looking for it."

Mark Duigon, a geologist at the Maryland Geological Survey, said sinkholes in the Annapolis area probably result from erosion of soil particles by underground water.

"You have water getting into the ground, moving and discharging somewhere," Duigon said. " And it carries away soil particles as it moves, which allows void to form, and it may enlarge over time. And then you could have collapse over time."

This week, two men bypassed the fence around the first sinkhole and walked close to the second one, which residents say is about two months old. Several long cracks in the pavement extended from the sinkhole beyond the fenced-off area.

Bonnie Branzell, 61, a Glenwood resident who uses a walker, said finding a parking spot is difficult.

Residents have been told to park at a nearby elementary school when parking places around the building are unavailable.

She said the unwillingness of officials to remedy the problem has given her the impression that "they don't care."

"It's a hardship," Branzell said. "It really is. It's just a real mess."

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