Attick Towers is a clean, well-lighted and affordable high-rise home for senior citizens in College Park, but it is losing a race against time, inflation and the Reagan administration's proposed budget cuts, according to the executive director of the College Park Housing Authority.
The eight-story apartment building, at 9014 Rhode Island Ave., will have to close its doors by October, said Anne Marie Hanes, if College Park, Prince George's County or the Department of Housing and Urban Development does not come to its aid soon.
The building may close because the formula HUD uses to calculate operating subsidies to public housing has not kept pace with the rising cost of everything from washers for faulty plumbing to white paint for the halls -- especially for the gas used to heat and cool the building. Rents, which average $91 a month, are held at 25 percent of a tenant's income. r
"The problem began in 1977 but it has taken this long to catch up," says Hanes, who has run the building since 1972. "We're trying to make it now on the rental income and the small (HUD) subsidy. In three or four months we're not going to have any money -- period," she added. Her $26,000 salary will be one of the first things to go, she said.
The HUD subsidy formula, which is based on costs incurred by housing authorities in 1975, is intended to cover operating costs in excess of the amounts collected in rent.
With utility rates rising rapidly in the last few years, HUD has been making up the difference between budgeted and actual utility costs, though it takes almost a year for the payments to catch up. Attack Towers; has not yet received its adjustment for the year ending last September.
This year's shortfall on utility bills will be at least $30,000, compared with a total Attick Towers budget of $169,000.
Payment of the $30,000 may be in jeopardy. In its budget for fiscal 1981, submitted March 10, the Reagan administration deleted a $100 million supplemental amount the Carter administration had sought to cover energy costs for housing authorities and other underfunding during the year.
The federal budget is still under consideration in House and Senate committees, but HUD has told some 2,700 housing authorities to expect a 15 percent cut in the final amounts of their subsidies unless one of the houses explicitly returns those funds to the budget.
Attick Towers is not the only public housing in Prince George's threatened by a potential cut in already tight funds. The county housing authority operates 315 units of similar housing that have never received adequate costs subsidies, according to authority director Earl Morgan. The reason is due, in part, to a miscalculation of base-year costs.
"If it were not for the county picking up the tab for some personnel costs, we would have run out of funds to operate the buildings," said Morgan. "There wouldn't have been enough to keep them adequately maintained. It's a nationwide problem, not just in College Park."
Hanes said just paying the utility bills, whether the deficit is made up or not, will reduce her cash to zero by the fall - And, she said, she was not counting the rise in natural-gas costs expected to result from the Reagan administration's deregulation of gas rates.
Attick Towers has been dipping into a small reserve fund of $27,000 at a rate of $4,000 to $5,000 per month, and Hanes said it is just a question of when the next unexpected maintenance bill will empty the bank account - perhaps in October.
Yet because she feels certain something will be done to keep the building going, Hanes waited until this week to tell the tenants, whose average age is 73, that the wolf is at the door. They took the news with some tears, but vowed to start a letter campaign to Congress and to enlist friends and relatives in the cause.
"They're elderly, not fully able to understand the crisis . . . yet," said Hanes. "I have held off because there's no sense in alarming them," she said.
Few of the residents, who sit for hours together in the large, sunny lobby Hanes calls "everybody's living room," have noticed the outward signs of deterioration, but they are there if one looks closely.
In the front foyer and on several other floors there are large holes in the sheetrock ceilings where plumbers have made frequent repairs on the heating and cooling system. Last winter, four water pipes broke in three days, due to poor insulation in the original construction, according to Hanes.
The resulting flood damaged the blue-and-white shag rug in 67-year-old Lillian Little's cozy apartment. She and husband, who has since died, moved in when the building opened in 1972. They saved from their Social Security checks for four years to buy the rug, matching tiles for the kitchen and bathroom and a new refrigerator for their beloved apartment. Under housing authority rules, the extra niceties have been signed over as property of the authority, but Little says it is worth it to live in a building where "the rent can't go up overnight."
"I'm a nester by nature -- I like to stay put," said Little, pointing to callico and gingham cloth and napkins on her dining table for two. "When I leave here, no matter how I go, I'll leave the place better than I found it."
"I can't conceive of any other place for me to live, and I speak for at least 100 other people," she said.
Still, there is no money for a new roof to stop the water damage done to some apartments when it rains. HUD approved $25,000 for roof repairs this year, but that money is caught in the Reagan administration's recission of $300 million in long-term maintainance funds approved by the previous administration. And the building's long maintenance man must do the work of two -- "everything from a stopped toilet to cleaning the halls in the 108-unit building," according to Hanes.
But Little, like most other residents on a fixed income, could not conceive of another place to live out her life, "in independence and dignity," the way she planned when she and her husband moved in.
"I thought that I was set for life," she said. "I never thought I'd outlive a new building."