I wish to express my gratitude to The Washington Post for its objective and informative series by Jackson Diehl on HUD-subsidized projects in Prince George's County. One of my most important objectives since taking office in December 1978 has been to eliminate the unsafe and hazardous living conditions that exist in some of the country's apartment complexes and to promote better living environments for the county's lower-income residents. To this end, my policy has been to take a hard-line in dealing with the owners and managers of deteriorated projects, and in scrutinizing proposals for new and rehabilitated subsidized housing in the county.
In the past 20 years, HUD-subsidized programs have been the proverbial Trojan horse of housing problems in Prince George's County. Outwardly, they appear to be a gift loaded with public goodies, but once withing the county's borders, they in fact have turned out to be social, economic and physical disasters for everyone but their private developers and managers, and the HUD officials who are promoted for meeting their housing-production quotas. If the six disastrous projects discussed in The Post were rehabilitated, the cost would be $53.3 million. The only way such an exorbitant expense can be justified is if HUD could guarantee that this will not create a whole new generation of intractable housing problems.
For a rehabilitation proposa to receive the county's endorsement, it must have an adequate management plan, meet all the requirements of the county building and zoning codes and provide for its residents a maximum of public and personal safety, convenience, recreational facilities and amenities. Concentrations of units receiving rental subsidies in excess of 20 to 25 percent of the total number of units should not be approved unless the developer presents clear and convincing evidence that the project is socially and economically feasible, and that there will be adequate project management and tenant-selection procedures.
Unfortunately, most of the current proposals for rehabilitating subsidized projects in the county do not come close to the county's standards. The reason is that both HUD and private developers appear to be more concerned about protecting their economic investment than achieving the real objective of subsidized housing programs - decent, safe and sanitary living environments for lower-income citizens. That mentality is expected from a private developer, but is inexcusable from HUD.
The HUD proposal to rehabilitate Baber Village apartments and a private proposal to rehabilitate Central Gardens are good examples. HUD currently holds the mortgages to those projects and is in danger of suffering a complete loss on its loans. They are across the street from each other in Seat Pleasant and are a blight ot the neighborhood because of their extreme deterioration. The current plans for them are an expensive rehabilitation in which all of the units would be subsidized. But, it is precisely because they were 100-percent-subsidized projects that they failed in the first place. Even without Central Gardens across the street, the Baber Village rehabilitation would be a taxpayer rip-off. The current estimated cost per unit is $61,000 for a two-bedroom garden apartment. Even that outrageous expenditure of funds would not bring the project in compliance with the county building code.
There is also currently a proposal by a private developer to construct 150 lower-income appartments and 118 subsidized townhouses at a nearby landfill site. That means a total of 500 subsidized units are being planned for a quarter of a mile area in Seat Pleasant. Without a substantial reduction in the density of subsidizing housing, those projects will be social and economic disasters within just a few years.
The problem of deteriorated subsidized housing is one of the most serious problems that I and my successors must face in the years to come. If projects cannot be brought into compliance with the housing code or rehabilitated to the county's review standards, they should be torn down and the land should be put to a beneficial use. I sincerely hope that in the future all participants in the county's development process will join me in the fight to promote a better living environment for all of the county's residents.