The Morris H. Blum Senior Apartments are one of the facilities mentioned in the federal Federal lawsuit against the city and Housing Authority of Annapolis. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette)
The most recent federal inspections of Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis properties from 2018 showed poor scores of most properties with some, including Newtowne 20 and Morris H. Blum, showing no improvement from prior inspections.
According to the physical inspections conducted by Housing and Urban Development, the housing authority received scores below 60 out of 100 in 2018 with a 39 for Newtowne 20, a 51 for Morris H. Blum and a 41 for Robinwood. HUD, which distributes funding to the housing authority, did not provide scores for Harbor House Apartments/Eastport Terrace and Bloomsbury Square for 2018. Bloomsbury Square did not require an inspection last year because of a high score the prior year, at 81.
Residents from Annapolis public housing properties filed a lawsuit last month against the city and the housing authority stating the city failed to inspect and license properties. Residents in the lawsuit claim they lived in deplorable conditions and cited issues like water damage, sewage leaks and mold.
Through a random sampling of apartment units, federal inspectors review a property site including the building exterior, common area, units and the building system. The weight of the scoring comes down to what is called the “exigent health and safety” (EHS).
“Examples of EHS deficiencies include blocking of emergency fire exits, exposed wires and missing or inoperable smoke detectors,” HUD regional public affairs officer Nika Edwards said via email.
For properties that have one of those deficiencies, the public housing agency must address issues HUD identifies within 72 hours, according to Edwards. HUD identified those deficiencies at Newtowne 20, Morris H. Blum and Robinwood.
According to physical inspection report by HUD, Morris H. Blum has declined in score each year since 2015. In 2015, the property received a high score of 87 but two years later dropped to 66 and even lower with a 51 in 2018.
Harbor House went from a score of 62 in 2015 to 46 in 2016 and an increase to 54 by 2017. Other properties have ranked relatively low as well.
Robinwood went from 63 in 2015 to 30 by 2017 and 50 later that year. Newtowne 20 saw an extreme decline that has not gotten substantially better. In 2015, the property earned an 81 but in 2017 HUD inspectors gave Newtowne a 29 in January and then a 34 in October.
Housing authority officials did not respond for comment regarding the scores.
When a public housing property scores less than 80 it must be inspected every year. If the score is between 80 and 89, properties are inspected every two years and from 90 to 100, it is inspected every three.
As part of the physical inspections of public housing properties, HUD inspectors look at factors like overgrown vegetation, water leaks, health and safety, and the state of apartments or units to determine if the condition is decent, sanitary and safe, according to guidance regulation documents.
According to Edwards, the public housing team in Baltimore has worked with the housing authority by providing technical assistance to “think through other options,” when it comes to preserving affordable housing.
“Ultimately, we need to be thinking of what is best for the residents and the quality of life. What can we do to preserve it and what long terms strategies can we look to — to make a significant impact,” Edwards said.
The inspection routine is also undergoing changes after the federal agency realized housing authorities and private owners of HUD-subsidized housing have become used to the inspection process. One of the changes will be a shift from a 90 to 120 notification of inspection to 14 days.
Executive director of the housing authority and others are looking for ways to fund redevelopment of Newtowne 20. In May, Beverly Wilbourn and her agency applied for two programs through HUD for Section 18 federal subsidies, which can be used for obsolete properties, and 4% tax credits.
The agency hopes to start relocation in August or September, according to Wilbourn. The goal is to demolish and rebuild the property, which is made up of 78 aged units, in early 2020.