Maryland has the second highest percentage of failed public housing inspections in the country, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.
The report, which evaluated the inspection process by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows that Maryland properties failed 28 percent of the 329 inspections done between the fiscal years 2013 and 2017.
The only jurisdiction that did worse was the District of Columbia, which failed more than a third of its inspections.
Twenty-four of the 29 public housing properties that failed inspection in Maryland were in Baltimore. Among them were Gilmor Homes, Latrobe Homes, McCulloh Homes, Cherry Hill Homes and Stricker Street Apartments.
Baltimore’s latest effort to get the most vulnerable families into permanent housing and off the streets, out of shelters and no longer couch surfing involves an obvious solution: Pairing them up with vacant apartments in the city’s public housing complexes.
The report did not drill down to city or housing-level scores, but according to the most recent HUD inspection data as of March 2018, inspectors rated West Baltimore’s Rosemont Tower public housing complex, at 740 Poplar Grove St., as the worst in the state.
It earned a grade of 24 out of 100. Anything below 60 is considered failing.
The data does not detail problems per location, but Baltimore City Councilman John T. Bullock, whose district includes Rosemont, said that he has heard of water damage and broken elevators among several other common complaints there and elsewhere across Baltimore.
He said the city, with a high number of public housing units relative to other parts of the state, presents particular problems in terms of getting timely maintenance and inspections, and that responsibility for the conditions within public housing resides at both the local and federal levels.
“Help has to come from both the top down and the bottom up,” he said.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City says it has reduced the rat population at its public housing complexes by 82 percent in the past year. Some residents say they don't see a difference. The $300,000 campaign to eliminate the vermin will continue at least through the summer.
Maryland earned much better marks for its “multifamily housing,” which generally consists of connected housing units such as apartments that are privately owned, but where the mortgages or rents are subsidized to low-income tenants through HUD.
Of the 917 inspections of such properties in Maryland between fiscal years 2013 and 2017, only 3 percent of the inspections earned failing grades.
HUD is responsible for ensuring the properties it helps fund are “decent, safe, and sanitary.” To do so, it contracts with inspectors through its Real Estate Assessment Center.
The GAO report concluded that HUD’s inspection process and inspector oversight need work. GAO researchers found HUD did not track its progress toward meeting inspection schedules, which could affect its ability to make effective enforcement actions. It also found that it doesn’t verify the qualifications of contract inspectors or require continuing education requirements like other professional inspection programs.
HUD spokesperson Jerry Brown said in an email that “HUD realized that its inspection system was not serving those we serve. Because of that, Secretary [Ben] Carson recently ordered a wholesale re-examination of Real Estate Assessment Center's 20-year old inspection process.”
Brown wrote that HUD will begin reforming its inspection process by reducing inspection notices from 90-120 days to 14 calendar days. He said HUD will be testing new ways of collecting information and inspecting Maryland properties later this year.