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New Annapolis housing authority director a no-show on first day

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com
HACA incoming executive director backs out for 'personal reasons.'

Sharon Land will not be the next executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, the agency said Tuesday.

Land was to take on the role of executive director Monday, but declined for "personal reasons," HACA said in statement released by its attorney.

Richard Walton will continue as interim director until a permanent replacement is found.

"We are disappointed to learn of Ms. Land's decision, but we respect that she has reasons, personal to her, for not proceeding with HACA," Jeffrey Henderson, HACA Board of Commissioners chairman, said in the statement.

Land was lauded by agency officials as the replacement for Vincent Leggett, who resigned in September to pursue other career opportunities. She served under Eric Brown, the executive director before Leggett.

She currently works at the Housing Authority of Prince George's County where she serves as deputy director. She did not return calls for comment.

Leggett was the first of five high-level officials to resign in recent months, including two board members. Those seats have not been filled yet.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, called Land's decision "disappointing" and linked it to Mayor Mike Pantelides recent announcement in a letter that the city would inspect HACA properties to determine if they meet city code. The mayor cited complaints about lack of maintenance and upkeep.

Annapolis charges $100 per inspection, and with 790 units HACA would be asked to pay $79,000. Those inspections are to be completed by May 1, 2016.

Finlayson asked why the city would seek money from an organization that is struggling financially. Newtowne 20, one of the authority's properties, is located in her ward.

"Who would want to come in with that kind of pressure before you even get your feet on the ground?" Finlayson said. "It was a mistake to send a public letter, it is not the way to handle it.

"We are not helping them, we are putting barriers in their way."

Alderman Kenneth Kirby, D-Ward 6, echoed Finlayson's concerns. He said Land's decision may have been linked to the mayor's mandate.

"He should have let her get hired, invited her to the office, told her his thought process and let her issue the mandate to her employees," said Kirby, a part time employee of the authority. "He issued that edict and she wasn't even on the job."

Pantelides was set to meet with Land after she started as executive director. The mayor's office did not know Land had decided not to begin the job until today.

Pantelides said he didn't think Land's decision was tied to the inspections.

"I think it is unfortunate she is unable to take the job," Pantelides said. "I still remain committed to working with HACA."

The mayor said he is still taking applications for the two open board seats.

A year of troubles

The HACA board hired Land up to begin righting the ship.

After the five resignations this year, the board learned its $56.6 million project to bulldoze and redevelop Newtowne 20 hit a snag — the San Diego-based developer waited too long to submit a portion of the application so the entire request for tax credits was denied.

This set the project back at least a year, as the tax credits were necessary to complete such a large development. Officials now have to decide if they will make the same request again or scale down the project to limit the reliance on tax credits.

The authority is an independent agency, authorized under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It 790 housing units designed to be affordable to low income residents of Annapolis. It also oversees 331 tenant-based housing choice vouchers and 53 project-based vouchers.

Following the Newtowne 20 delays, Pantelides announced the city would inspect and license public housing units at the expense of HACA.

The mayor said he was swayed by city residents who attended council meetings to complain about a lack of maintenance and upkeep in public housing. At Morris H. Blum, an elevator was in such disrepair that it got stuck with a couple of residents trapped inside.

Those elevators were repaired, but residents also complained about slow maintenance response times.

HACA officials say they meet maintenance requests as best they can and a large portion of the organization's budget is spent on maintenance and repairs.

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