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Pr. George's Housing Called Source Of Crime

Johnson Might Raze Some Apartment Complexes

By Jamie Stockwell and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page B04

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson said yesterday that 18 apartment complexes with "huge problems" generate much of the violent crime in the county.

Johnson (D) told WTOP radio that he is prepared to "use the power of eminent domain to tear down some of these complexes" if they don't adopt stringent safety measures, including better lighting and private security guards. He said some of the complexes are allowing people whose names are not on leases to live in units and to deal drugs and carry guns.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson said he is prepared to "use the power of eminent domain to tear down some of these complexes" if they don't improve.

Johnson said much of the crime is committed by individuals who have moved from the District into Prince George's.

"We cannot accept all of the antisocial issues that are coming our way, and we will not do that," Johnson said.

Johnson would not return calls for comment yesterday, and his office refused to release a list of the apartment complexes that he described. County officials also would not explain the methodology used to compile the list, except to say that it has grown to about two dozen locations since a draft was circulated last month.

Police Chief Melvin C. High declined to comment and referred a phone call to Johnson's office.

Mike Herman, Johnson's chief of staff, said he was "going to hold the information" until a news conference Monday.

A draft obtained yesterday from a county source named 19 properties that account for "high volumes of calls for service," or police responses. The complexes stretch from Laurel to Oxon Hill, with the majority in the communities closest to the District.

Johnson first raised the possibility of tearing down crime-ridden apartment complexes in January in his midterm address. He said then that a report, written by High, identified 10 locations that accounted for 117,000 of the 500,000 calls for service received in 2004.

The police department later said the figures were incorrect and taken out of context.

Council member David Harrington (D-Cheverly), chairman of the Transportation and Housing Committee, said he agrees that some apartments ought to be razed. Last year, the county knocked down the remaining buildings at Georgian Gardens Condominiums in Oxon Hill, and in January leveled the Hunter Ridge Apartments in Landover. Both complexes were deemed unfit by county officials.

"We just have to get the message out that they need to clean this up, get rid of those tenants who are problems or we will use our own leverage," Harrington said.

County leaders have struggled for years with problems at apartments built in the 1960s to meet the demand created by District residents leaving the city. Clustered mostly inside the Capital Beltway, the developments were seen as a solution to the region's shortage of affordable housing.

By the late 1990s, the garden apartments, once a symbol of suburban prosperity, were considered breeding grounds for poverty and crime.

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