Dozens of residents of the federally subsidized South Laurel Mutual Homes apartment complex are refusing to pay their rent in protest of failure by government officials to repair the recently condemned project, which, the tenants say, remains plagued by rodent infestations, flooding problems, and hot water shortages.
Maria Hills, president of the South Laurel Tenant Association, said yesterday that about 90 percent of the some 270 families still living at the low-income project, which was taken over by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development two months ago, have not paid rent for March and April. Most, she said, have paid their money into an escrow account that will be maintained until repairs are made.
"We want immediate action on these problems," said Hill. "We are tired of waiting around for responses."
Robert Ratcliffe, who is directing HUD's renovation work at the 625-unit complex, said yesterday that HUD has recently completed the job of boarding up vacant apartments and installing fire safety equipment. He said an engineering firm will soon be hired to determine what further repairs are necessary.
"We're working as fast as we can to make repairs," Ratcliffe said, "but it's a long process."
Ratcliffe said that he had been told informally by officials of Multi-Family Housing Services, which is managing the project for HUD, that 70 to 80 families were withholding rent.
Ratcliffe also said that HUD officials were studying a request by Prince George's County officials that six of the 51 builindgs be razed in order to "reduce density" in the project, which could house 625 families on less than 30 acres.
Prince George's Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has advocated the demolition of buildings at several federal housing projects around the county as a way of reducing their crime and occupany problems, despite charges from some community leaders that advocated the demolition of buildings at several fed-of reducing their crime and occupancy problems, desuch actions effectively drive low-income families from Prince George's.
Ratcliffe said that the razing of the buildings would not be approved unless HUD Secretary Patricia Harris reviewed and agreed to the action.
County housing inspectors condemned the entire project in February and orginally ordered that its residents move out by Feb. 28. Later, the inpectors decided to condemn only 39 of the project's 51 buildings, and lifted the evacuation order after HUD took over the complex and agreed to make repairs.
Yesterday, county Licences and Permits Acting Director Charles C. Deegan said that HUD had successfully completed work to prevent the complex from being evacuated by the county. He added, however, that no internal repair work had begun in the apartments.