Prince George's County and federal officials reached an agreement yesterday that will allow several hundred families at the South Laurel Mutual Homes project to remain at the development while an estimated $1.5 million worth of repairs are made with federal funds.
The agreement was reached in a late afternoon meeting between Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, county inspectors and officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which took over the troubled project yesterday from its owners.
Under the informal compromise, federal officials will gradually move families from condemned buildings at the project to other units that are considered safe while making repairs in 39 buildings that have been declared either unfit or unsafe for human habitation by the county.
The county will assist in moving families and in finding safe apartments for them and will waive its March 30 deadline for completing repairs at South Laurel. Until yesterday, county officials had said that they would evict the residents of the condemned buildings on March 30, and would then attempt to raze the project.
The agreement between HUD and county officials marks what both sides say will be a new era of cooperation in handling federally subsidized projects. In the past, county officials vetoed HUD-backed proposals for rent assistance to project residents, and an effort by former County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. to raze the federally backed Baber Village project was blocked by HUD in court.
Federal officials said they intend to spend up to six months rehabilitating the South Laurel project, which was known until recently as Pumpkin Hill and was owned, in part, by developer Ralph D. Rocks and attorney William Kahler.
Larry Dale, deputy director of the local HUD office, announced at a county Landlord-Tenant Commission hearing last night that work will begin after an inspection of the property by county and federal officials Friday.
Last night's hearing was held ostensibly to consider an appeal by the project's owners of a decision by the county on Jan. 25 to revoke the project's rental license.
Before the hearing could begin, however, Louis Pohoryles, an attorney for the owners, announced that the deed to ther project had been turned over to HUD officials hours earlier. The owners had not made mortgage payments in more than a year, and maintained that they could not afford to make repairs on the project.
The transfer of the deed by the owners to HUD, Pohoryles and Dale said, saved HUD from foreclosing on the project, a process that would have taken months.
In an interview, Pohoryles said that the owners have agreed to turn over the project's reserve fund for repairs to HUD, as well as several tax refunds that the owners shad been awarded.
Dale said that HUD has decided to retain the projects management company, Multi-Family Housing Services Inc., while the project is being repaired. An attorney for the tenants said last night that numerous complaints have been filed in recent days accusing Multi-Family Services of ignoring requests for repairs and of failing to inform tenants of the county's code-enforcing actions.
After repairs are completed, Dale said, HUD will undertake a lengthy study of the project before deciding what to do with it. Eventually, Dale said, HUD would transfer or sell the project to other owners.
Asked if HUD would consider razing some of the 51 buildings at the development -- as Hogan has recommended for other failing subsidized projects in the county -- Dale said, "That will be one of many alternatives that will be discussed."
"I'm not prepared to say what the project will look like five years from now or three years from now," Dale said. "Right now we intend to work out a plan for repairing and consolidating the units. That will be the first in a series of steps."
The federal plan "Will have the minimum impact on the people there," said Charles Deegan, the acting director of the Prince George's Department of Licenses and Permits, which condemned the building.
"The result will be that these people will have a decent place to live, which is what we were after to begin with."