Articles in the Metro section on Sept. 18 and 22 misspelled the name of Tedi S. Osias, director of legislative and public affairs for Montgomery County's Housing Opportunities Commission. (Published 9/26/2005)
Montgomery County's housing code inspectors are scrutinizing a Rockville complex of 24 townhouses owned and operated by the Housing Opportunities Commission, the county's award-winning public housing agency.
After a June review of one of the units, a housing code inspector ordered the agency to address 25 violations, including leaks, mold, broken doors and a "deteriorated and rusted out stove." Tenants of other townhouses at the Parkway Woods complex also have complained about the condition of their units, prompting the Department of Housing and Community Affairs to inspect the entire complex.
Linda Nealon and her husband, Charles, have rented their three-bedroom townhouse since 1986. In June, frustrated by what she called years of sloppy and haphazard maintenance by the Housing Opportunities Commission, Linda Nealon called in a housing inspector. An official from the county's Department of Environmental Protection also found violations of Montgomery's air quality ordinance because of mold in the home.
"The problems in the units are not new," said Tedi Osais, the Housing Opportunities Commission's director of legislative and public affairs. "They are being repaired now."
Nealon and other tenants also have filed a sexual harassment complaint against an agency employee. Osais said the matter is under investigation.
Nealon said the employee has appeared twice at the complex since the complaint was filed last month, but Osais said her agency "would never leave an employee on the job if we expected that employee to be a threat to one of the tenants or to another employee."
She would not comment about the specifics of the case, but the agency's executive director, D. Scott Minton, defended the employee. "I don't think these are true charges," he said.
The agency's Web site says its mission is to provide affordable housing and support services to ensure that "no one in Montgomery County is living in substandard housing," but Nealon and other tenants said the agency has failed to maintain their units properly. "I don't understand why we are being treated like low-class citizens; we're human beings," said Eugene Ward, a neighbor of Nealon's at Parkway Woods, which consists of rental townhouses for low-income residents.
A much-recognized national leader in affordable housing, the Housing Opportunities Commission won the 2002 award of excellence from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
Over the years, Nealon said, agency workers made superficial repairs rather than addressing what she believes is the central problem in her townhouse: a leak in the plumbing of her second-floor bathroom. In March, she stepped through the rotting floor of the bathroom.
She said the leak also is responsible for the mold and a partially collapsed ceiling in the kitchen. "Instead of addressing the leak and finding where the leak is, they would cover it up," she said of the agency's maintenance workers.
Her daughter Christy's asthma has been aggravated by the mold, she said. "She would be sitting outside crying because she can't come in the house because she gets sick," Nealon said. Despite recent repairs, she said, water is still leaking onto her kitchen ceiling.
She credits housing code inspector Steve Morris with pressuring the agency to make repairs. "He's definitely been there for us," she said of Morris, who did not return calls to his office.
Elizabeth Davison, head of Montgomery's Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the county is planning to renovate all 24 units at Parkway Woods at a cost of $560,000 but is waiting for the release of federal money to begin the work.
"I don't think HOC is the worst or at the bottom of the list, but they may not be as good as some of the private management companies," Davison said, referring to the agency's maintenance record.
"We place a high priority on keeping units in good shape," Osais said, "and we have a large maintenance staff that does that."