Although they aren’t anywhere near the honor roll, the inspection grades for Baltimore’s public housing improved last year — from 35% of inspections earning a passing grade in 2017 to nearly 50%, according to inspection data provided to The Baltimore Sun by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.
The federal audit agency reviewed the grades of public housing inspections performed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development across the country. The only place worse than Maryland in 2017 was Washington, D.C.
Baltimore accounts for much of the state’s public housing and 24 out of 37 inspections of city housing that year failed to earn a passing grade.
But the inspections in that report were a year or more old. Since then, 10 of the city’s public housing sites have moved from a failing grade to a passing one, according to the city housing authority. Five passing sites failed their inspections.
As a result, the latest inspections through March of this year show 19 out of 37 failing to make a passing grade.
The federal housing agency could not confirm the city’s most recent inspections.
Janet Abrahams, the housing authority’s new executive director, told The Baltimore Sun that regular meetings with property managers and better cooperation with other city agencies are helping to move the inspections in the right direction.
She said improvements over the last year include things like upgraded security at buildings and better pest elimination.
The biggest swing for the good came at West Baltimore's Rosemont Tower, which had the worst public housing score in the state with just 24 out of 100 points in 2017 — anything below a 60 is failing grade. In the most recent inspection in September 2018, Rosemont moved up to a passing 71. Work on the building's elevator, fire suppression system and exterior brick work and columns helped move it up, Abrahams said.
“We’re not waiting until two weeks before an inspection to do maintenance anymore,” Abrahams said.
Housing officials also changed how they attack rodents, she said. Before, to exterminate pests, the housing authority would address only the inside because the outside was the city’s responsibility, she said. Now it partners with the city to coordinate extermination efforts both inside and outside.
Abrahams acknowledged that they still have a long way to go and pointed to a need for more funding to address significant capital expenditures like new heating systems. She also said some of the things inspectors mark properties down for are beyond the housing authority’s control, like a tree hanging over the building.
Baltimore isn’t the only place struggling with public housing grades. Inspection scores have fallen for years at government-owned housing nationwide assigned to low-income residents. Many local housing agencies, including Baltimore’s, point to declining federal funding for maintenance.