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HUD action leads to tenant displacement in Prince George’s County

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A toddler cradled in his mother’s arms was shot in the face by a stray bullet three months ago just outside Linda Watson’s apartment building in Glenarden.

Drug dealing. Fighting. Robberies.

Watson has nearly seen and heard it all in her 41 years living in Glenarden Apartments, 562 units of subsidized apartments in a garden-style setting down the road from FedEx Field. The senseless shooting of the 2-year-old is the one that makes her shake her head the most.

“Pop, pop, pop,” Watson said sitting on her couch one recent afternoon, recalling what she heard that night. “You just hear the bullets all the time.”

Crime has become commonplace at Glenarden Apartments. So have the complaints about the living conditions inside and outside some of the buildings.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified Intercoastal, the Los Angeles-based parent company of the entity that owns the apartment buildings, that it would end its Section 8 contract because a part of the complex — Glenarden I — had repeatedly failed inspections. HUD makes routine inspections of properties where it provides housing subsidies.

HUD and Prince George’s County housing officials met with hundreds of residents last month to notify them of the decision. The bottom line: Nearly 250 tenants need to vacate the premises by the end of the year.

Although most residents are pleased to know that they will probably find — with assistance from HUD and county housing officials — a place to live with a higher quality of life, some say they are worried about the timing.

Josephine Clay, an aide to Eric C. Brown, director of housing and community development in Prince George’s County, said 216 families have been issued vouchers to move. Fewer than 65 have found places, she said.

“Everyone is in a scramble right before the holidays,” said Sharon Peoples, who lives in Glenarden Apartments and is looking for a new place to live. “It’s just really abrupt.”

‘Not a desired outcome’

Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD, said his agency has repeatedly tried to work with Intercoastal to remedy the company’s low performance on its inspections.

“This is not a desired outcome,” Sullivan said. “But we are not going to support slum housing.”

Sheldon P. Berger, president and chief executive of Intercoastal, said the company was not receiving adequate rental subsidies from HUD to pay for capital maintenance or to support the plans to rehab the property. He said the county also seemed uninterested.

“I think we got shafted by HUD by inaction and the county by intention,” Berger said. “Local people didn’t want poor people in their midst.”

Sullivan said the residents will go from tenant-based assistance, where HUD makes payments to a landlord, to a program where individuals are given vouchers to cover some of the cost of their rents.

Sullivan said the common areas of Glenarden I, which houses 324 units, were deteriorating, and the plumbing and heating systems were failing. Inspectors also found rodents and insects inside the units. Glenarden II passed inspection, and the residents there are unaffected, Sullivan said.

“If you cannot correct the deficiencies, we have to nullify the contracts,” he said.

Sullivan said the mortgage has been assigned to HUD.

It is unclear what will happen next to the buildings.

Town and county officials say there is no specific plan for the property where the apartments sit, but county planners unveiled an ambitious plan four years ago to transform part of Landover, which includes the Glenarden and Maple Ridge apartment complexes, the demolished Landover Mall and the troubled Landover Crossing Shopping Center.

The Landover Gateway Sector Plan called for replacing the Landover Mall site with stores, townhouses and office buildings. County officials at the time also pushed for construction at the site of the apartment buildings.

Meanwhile, Glenarden Mayor Gail Parker Carter said she wants to ensure that the abandoned buildings do not attract homeless people or more criminal activity. She has asked that the buildings be boarded up, that police make foot patrols in the area and that lighting be enhanced.

“We want to make sure that the closing will not affect the quality of life for the remaining residents in the [Glenarden] II and the surrounding community,” she said. “And we just want the residents to go from a bad situation to a better one.”

‘Of course I want to move’

Watson has been looking for a house, a place where her grandchildren could visit, run through the yard and play with a puppy that she would like to buy.

“I’ve never lived in a place like that, with a basement and a back yard,” said Watson, 63, a widow and mother of four.

Watson moved into Glenarden Apartments before they became Section 8 units. She and her ex-husband, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, paid $119 a month for their apartment in 1970, she said.

In the past few weeks, Watson has looked at a number of places, but nothing has panned out.

Whatever she finds has to fit within her $1,326 monthly voucher. Then HUD has to inspect the property to make sure it meets its standards.

“Of course I want to move,” Watson said. “Why would you want to choose this? Over many generations, it has morphed into this.”

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