WASHINGTON – After years of trying to get the Department of Housing and Urban Development to repair five houses it owns in the town of Cheverly, local officials finally found a way to get the agency’s attention: They sued.
Since the lawsuit was filed Nov. 5, HUD has started maintaining the houses and has tentatively agreed to sell three of them to Cheverly, said Town Administrator David W. Warrington. That sale could come as soon as Wednesday under an already existing discount program.
A fourth house was sold the day the lawsuit was filed and the fifth is under contract.
“They want the suit withdrawn and us to go away,” Warrington said. “And we’re happy to do that. This is everything we’ve ever wanted.”
A HUD spokesman said Wednesday that the lawsuit was not necessary.
“Clearly there was a communications breakdown there,” said Matt Franklin, special assistant to the HUD commissioner.. “Their goal ultimately is the same as ours: to return the houses to an owner as soon as possible.”
HUD buys abandoned or foreclosed houses, then resells them to local buyers. But Warrington said the houses in Cheverly were not easily identified as “for sale” and had not been maintained.
The town’s suit alleges that five HUD-owned houses in Cheverly were neglected to the point of disrepair and were creating a safety hazard. Those five included one Landover Road home that had been vacant since April 1994.
“We don’t want people to think that’s what Cheverly is,” Warrington said of the run-down properties. “It’s basically an eyesore for the entire community. We don’t want a domino effect of any kind.”
Warrington said Cheverly officials filed the lawsuit only after years of calls and letters requesting that the properties be fixed went ignored.
But Franklin said that on “four of the five, we did a very good job maintaining” the property. Until recently, HUD officials did not know they had the deed to the fifth property, the Landover Road house. It has since been “entirely cleaned up,” Franklin said.
HUD also owns 12 other properties in Cheverly that the town did not include in its lawsuit.
Warrington said he had heard from several other jurisdictions that have had problems with HUD, but none have filed similar lawsuits.
Patrick Prangley, city administrator in nearby Riverdale Park, agreed with Warrington that working with HUD can be nearly impossible.
“We’ve had at times a couple properties that were vacant for a while and we had to contact them,” Prangley said. “There is a genuine problem out there. It’s very difficult to get through to that contact person to get things done at HUD.”
Prangley said he has had good results with HUD recently, but has gone as far as contacting a congressional representative for help dealing with the massive agency in the past.
While Warrington said he is “delighted” with HUD’s reaction to the lawsuit so far, Prangley said he hopes other cities are not forced to use the same tactics in the future.
“There’s no question that this got somebody’s attention,” Prangley said. “But you shouldn’t have to be at that step, obviously. You should have somebody there [at HUD] that can take care of that.”