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Senior citizens wary of housing merger

June 23, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Betty Poole is worried about the future of her home in the Washington County Housing Authority's School House Manor development for senior citizens in Boonsboro.

Poole, 69, said she is "greatly concerned" that if the county's authority merges with the Hagerstown Housing Authority as proposed "that they won't care for the place as much as it has been in the past. They're there in the city and I don't think they'll take as much of an interest."

Several residents of School House Manor and the county's two other senior housing communities - Blue Mountain Estates in Smithsburg and Park View Knoll in Williamsport - praised the county's management of their developments.

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"The maintenance has been wonderful. They've really kept things up," said Glendora Cooper, 67, of Blue Mountain Estates. "I'm just worried that things might change."

Cooper, a widow, moved to Blue Mountain Estates three years ago when health problems made it difficult for her to keep up her own home, she said.

"I'm so tickled I have a nice apartment," which she shares with her miniature poodle Blossom, Cooper said.

But the proposed merger and speculation about what it could mean troubles her and others.

Last year the Washington County Commissioners cut funding of the county housing office in half, from about $180,000 to $90,000, and approached the Hagerstown Housing Authority about a merger to make operations more efficient and economical.

The merger would involve not only the county's 95 units in its three senior citizens' communities but also 25 scattered housing sites and the county's Section 8 voucher program that subsidizes rents in privately owned housing for low-income people, Hagerstown Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said.

"We're all worried that our rent's going to increase or there's going to be new rulings," Cooper said. "It's just the uncertainty of not knowing. We love it here."

Residents currently pay 30 percent of their income for rent and also cover their electric and telephone bills, said Jane Smith, 71, of School House Manor.

But Shankle said a merger won't affect rents, which are based on ability to pay and set by a federal formula that applies to both the county and city housing authorities.

Some residents complain that they are not being kept informed of the progress of merger negotiations between the city and county.

"We're left in the dark," Smith said. "It leaves us hanging in the air."

"We don't know too much. They haven't told us anything really," said Blue Mountain Estates resident Betty Kline. "I for one don't want the change ... I don't like change."

Shankle said the Hagerstown Housing Authority has gathered data and done inspections and is finishing up an "in-house analysis" of the merger proposal.

He said he hopes to be ready to make a recommendation to the city housing commissioners in August.

"It appears there's a very good chance that our recommendation will be to go forward" with the merger, Shankle said Friday.

A merger wouldn't take effect until next summer because the legal details would still have to be worked out and the Maryland General Assembly would have to pass legislation authorizing it, County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said.

A merger would likely mean a name change for the authority and the expansion of its five-member board of housing commissioners to seven or nine members to provide county representation, Shankle said.

Washington County Housing Authority Vice Chairman Thomas J. Kloc said he is concerned that any merged authority have adequate, county-wide representation so that is not "tilted" too heavily toward city residents.

Kline said she thinks the Hagerstown Housing Authority, which sent someone to tour her apartment, already has enough to take care of and "some of their places aren't the best to look at."

"This little place here is like seventh heaven," she said of Blue Mountain Estates. "We're just a nice little village and I don't think Hagerstown is capable" of maintaining it, although she admits she does not have any facts to support that opinion.

"They would have to meet our standards, not us meeting their's," Kline said.

Smith said she did live for awhile in Walnut Towers, which is run by the city authority, and "they were very kind to everybody."

But she likes the county's senior housing better because it gives a greater sense of independence.

"We can go and come when we want to," Smith said.

Shankle said he understands the residents concerns but he points to the city housing authority's Potomac Towers and Walnut Towers complexes.

"I think we keep a pretty high standard," he said.

Not everyone in the county's senior housing communities is concerned about the proposed merger.

"I don't think that much about it," said Pearl Meyers, a 13-year resident of Park View Knoll.

Meyers said she is not worried "as long as they still let me have my place."

"I sort of like the idea myself," said Raymond Shantz, another Park View Knoll resident.

Shantz said he thinks that some things might be better for residents and there might be fewer restrictions under the city housing authority's management.

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