The living room window in a closed residence at the Newtowne 20 public housing neighborhood looks out over a playground and residences, as well as other residences closed due to their poor condition. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette file)
As the Annapolis housing authority executive director’s contract gets closer to ending, the authority continues to move forward with projects she has led during her tenure.
To fund the redevelopment of its public housing property Newtowne 20, this month the agency will apply for two programs through Housing and Urban Development for Section 18 federal subsidies, which can be used for obsolete properties, and 4% tax credits, according to Executive Director Beverly Wilbourn.
“Once we hear back on our application for Section 18 then we will start the relocation, and we expect to start relocation in August or September of this year,” Wilbourn said.
After the state rejected an application to use 9% low-income housing tax credits to finance redevelopment in 2018, Wilbourn tried to find a different plan.
“We committed to get Newtowne off the ground,” Wilbourn said. “It has to be one of the highlights that we stuck with it to get a funding plan devised for Newtowne.”
The Newtowne property, made up of 78 aged units, will be demolished and rebuilt starting early 2020, if the agency’s application for Section 18 is accepted. The agency will incorporate a mix of funding to support the project, including tax credits, grants, state and federal programs to finance the $25 million redevelopment.
In August 2018, the state approved $350,000 for the demolition of Newtowne 20. Later that year, along with former House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch, the agency announced the financing plan for Section 18 demolition and disposition program.
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Under Section 18, housing authorities can apply for federal subsidies if their properties are obsolete and the authority cannot find a reasonable alternative for the property to be useful.
As families plan to relocate they can apply for resident vouchers to find private housing elsewhere or move to another public housing property, Wilbourn said. To help with the process, Property Manager Dee Brown oversees 52 families at Newtowne, and meets one on one with residents to discuss what moving will entail.
“We aren’t just transferring you from one location to another — we want you to be successful and as an agency, we will do our part as well,” Brown said.
While going over the options, Brown works with residents to address potential barriers such as transportation and schooling. Brown, who worked at the housing authority for six years, noticed the inconsistencies in leadership and the impact it left on employees and residents.
“In the past, I didn’t always feel that we had a clear direction as a housing authority,” Brown said. “The model at one point in time was the housing authority was always confusing. Where are we going?”
Brown said she saw commitment when Wilbourn took over as executive director of the public housing agency.
“She is committed to making a change in the agency as a whole with building relationships with the residents. It is a lot of talk but the residents and the employees trust her,” Brown said.
The agency also began a pilot program with the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families to assess the needs of Newtowne families and then work with them to remove obstacles.
The pilot program, launched in October 2018, has worked with an estimate of eight to 10 families, with the mission to improve the lives of residents in Newtowne 20 so once they move to the redeveloped property, the residents can succeed.
“For us and that partnership, they are a warm hand-off on the social service side,” Wilbourn said. “They bring the services to them and they connect with us, HACA, if something isn’t going quite right in the housing condition.”
The systems of care supervisor of the program, Tracy Cherry, met with families after the housing authority selected residents to participate. Families meet with Cherry on a monthly basis and also individually depending on the services required.
Though Cherry points out that families may not always attend the meetings, she acknowledges the length of time it takes to work with families on services like outstanding debt, medical insurance, education.
“Not every family has come to every meeting, this is difficult and slow work, even more at snail’s pace because we are there to soothe their mind as they go through this process of transition,” Cherry said.
Since the launch, Cherry highlighted some successes of the program.
“We have helped folks get jobs, start to pay debt, do budget sheets,” Cherry said. As of right now, Cherry is the main supervisor of the program.
Wilbourn also discussed her plan to redevelop Newtowne 20 and the Blum property in stages before moving on to the next redevelopment project.
“You can really focus on improving areas that have been neglected in those properties, while getting redeveloped. They are going to be in phase two (after) you get phase one set and the tone and standard that you need.”
For phase two, as Wilbourn calls it, the next properties will be Eastport Terrace and Robinwood as they are the larger public housing developments the authority oversees.