The hot, packed Urban Redevelopment Authority boardroom discussion on approving a $500,000 loan to purchase the troubled Bethesda Properties portfolio got even more heated as Homewood residents sparred with East Liberty Development Inc. representatives. URA chairman Kevin Acklin hinted he’d vote against it unless the authority could recoup monies from the current owner.
“So, this…slumlord…from New York buys these properties, makes money, does nothing to maintain them, HUD pulls its Section 8 subsidy, the tenants are being forced to relocate and now we’re being asked to pick up the pieces—and this person is going to walk away with money,” he said. “That upsets me. I’m not happy with that. People are walking away with money, and we’re left holding the bag.”
Board member Jim Ferlo said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is also partially to blame for making deals with private property owners, without any input or guarantees to the city, that ultimately blow up.
“I think there should be some attempt to hold people accountable…I don’t think we should just let HUD off the hook here,” he said.
In October, HUD announced it had pulled its subsidies on the Bethesda-Homewood properties because some were in deplorable condition. The low-income tenants were told with nearly any notice they could either stay without the rent subsidy or relocate. East Liberty Development would buy the properties with financial assistance from local foundations, rehab and repair the least problematic units, and keep as many residents as possible from being relocated.
Long-term, said ELDI Project Manager Kendall Pelling, they would rehab all the properties they could to a safe standard, and demolish and rebuild the others. The short-term goal is triage.