By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ENGLISH WOODS - Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken Monday called for an audit of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority to assess how it spent millions of federal dollars on repairs and improvements at English Woods.
The mayor's comments followed an hour-long tour with residents of the 948-unit public housing complex.
Luken, who was joined on the tour by council members Christopher Smitherman and Laketa Cole, said the city would also take an inventory of the services it provides to English Woods.
The mayor said the housing agency has engaged in "a war of attrition" by refusing to make renovations or effectively market the rental property.
"I question CMHA's accountability to the people of English Woods," Luken said. "They are basically doing what they were told not to do."
The housing authority wants to raze the World War II-era apartment complex, which it owns, and build single-family homes atop the prime western Cincinnati land.
Luken and City Council oppose demolition. In October, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected the demolition plan.
Since then, the housing authority has done little marketing of the property. Instead, English Woods tenants are being moved out of the area once targeted for demolition and into two additions to the complex - 118 units built four decades ago and the 138-unit Marquette Manor high-rise for the elderly and disabled.
A 6-foot chain link fence now seals off access to more than 300 unoccupied barracks-style apartments along Sutter Avenue.
"It looks like a minimum security prison," Luken said. "If you want people to act with pride, you have to treat people with respect. If you or your family lived here, how would you feel?"
Housing Authority Director Donald Troendle said renovation - estimated at about $130,000 per unit - would be too costly. Though structurally sound, Troendle said, the complex is riddled with failing heating and cooling systems, asbestos and lead-based paint.
"The housing authority is in full compliance with its program requirements and has detailed records of what funds we've spent over the years," Troendle said. "And contrary to belief, we did not receive money specifically for English Woods."
Troendle said there is a 70 percent vacancy rate among 700 units. Only 28 people have chosen to move there since January, Troendle said.
"English Woods is our housing of last resort," Troendle said.
Don Driehaus, a city-appointed member of the housing authority's board, said he would like to see the units expanded and renovated one block at a time.
"The board's inclination was to turn a blind eye and walk away, but I think we need to give it a try," Driehaus said.
Tenants of English Woods said Monday they were pleased the mayor and council are taking a more active interest in their plight.
"We need people to see what we live with and what our community is like," said Marcia Battle, a member of the English Woods Civic Association. "It is not as bad as they say it is."
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