For 75 Years, the Frederick Housing Authority has Provided an Evolving Social Safety Net … and More Change is on the Way
When the Frederick Housing Authority was founded 75 years ago, in the sweet spot of the New Deal, its mission was to provide low-income housing to Frederick’s neediest residents. Under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, housing authorities were established to replace slums with decent housing for the poor. Advocates knew that to have hope for a better life, people needed decent housing as a gateway.
In 1938, Frederick received a $500,000 federal grant to build 100 housing units. The first public housing complex, Lincoln, was built in 1941, followed by the Hanson-Taney complex in 1943. Lincoln was built for Frederick’s poor black population, while Taney was designated for whites. Carver was built in 1952. Senior apartments Catoctin View followed in 1970 and Sagner, now Lucas Village, was built in 1972.
Much has changed over the years. In the time since the “projects” were built, the Housing Authority has expanded its role, adding programs to help its residents go to school and find jobs. Meanwhile, much of the original housing has either been refurbished, focused or razed.
The man who put his signature on the most visible transformation of local public housing takes the helm at the Frederick Housing Authority of Frederick City this month. Kevin Lollar replaces Teresa Justice as executive director Aug. 8. Justice, who has led the agency for 17 years, is taking on a lesser role.
Beyond assuring that seniors, the disabled and others in need have access to safe and reliable housing, Housing Director Kevin Lollar’s broader vision is to ensure that children now in public housing don’t continue to live in public housing as adults.
Justice has been with the Housing Authority for 25 years and says she’s at a point in her life where she needs “less stress.” “It will be difficult in some ways, not making the decisions, but also a relief.” As executive director, “you are ultimately responsible for everything and you don’t get away from that.” She will be the director of housing, managing resident programs and housing, a position recently vacated by Frances Jenkins, who retired in June.
Lollar, as director of development for the Housing Authority from 2007 to 2011, managed the HOPE VI project, a federal grant program that replaces dilapidated public housing with mixed-income developments. His new position was “an offer he couldn’t refuse,” he says.
Fresh off a 10-month stint as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Frederick County, Lollar says the nonprofit is stabilized and now has “great momentum.” He will likely stay on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters to maintain continuity, and hopes to partner with the organization.
The job is a chance to augment the scope of Lollar’s work with vulnerable groups, particularly children and teens. Beyond assuring that seniors, the disabled and others in need have access to safe and reliable housing, his broader vision is to ensure that children now in public housing don’t continue to live in public housing as adults.
“The mix of supported housing and market rate rentals and ownership creates a good neighborhood dynamic.” —Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty
“By partnering with organizations like BBBS, the Police Activity League (PAL), the YMCA, the Rotary Club and others, we can give these children the chance to live up to their potential and to move on so housing is available for others who might need it. I want to end generational public housing occupancy,” Lollar says.
In 2002, the agency and the City of Frederick received a $16 million grant from the federal government to gut the worst of its aging housing, the 146-unit Hanson-Taney complex on Bentz and Seventh streets in the city’s historic district, and replace it with mixed income housing developments there and throughout the city.
City officials had tried and failed twice to obtain the HOPE VI grant. Former Mayor Jennifer Dougherty is credited with swaying Sen. Barbara Mikulski to go to bat for Frederick, resulting in the grant award.
“The program is a good one,” Dougherty says. “It requires job training or education, financial literacy and a true commitment to understanding the importance of taking care of a property. The mix of supported housing and market rate rentals and ownership creates a good neighborhood dynamic.”
Hanson-Taney had degenerated into an open-air drug market, and had the dubious honor of being named one of the state’s “hot spots,” for the amount of criminal activity that took place there. In 2005, the wrecking ball reduced the cinder-block barracks-style buildings to rubble, and construction began in Hillcrest in west Frederick on an apartment complex, townhomes and community center.
“A good work history, more education and mentoring support helps open doors. In the past, they had little connection with networks other than their own.” —Ann Ryan, Project Alive
Lollar came on board two years later to oversee the completion of construction and start other mixed-income developments, including Carroll Street and units in Lucas Village. With help from state Sen. Ronald Young (D-District 4), Lollar brought Nexus Energy Homes on board to build the nation’s first carbon-neutral community in a historic district. The energy efficient development, including apartments, single family homes and townhomes is partially completed, according to Ryan Trout, special projects manager for the Housing Authority.
“Frederick can be proud of what we built,” Lollar says. “There are still some challenges to overcome, and hopefully I can assist in finishing the project.” Plans are also in the works for another senior apartment complex.
The climate is ripe for Lollar’s vision, with new and existing initiatives of the Housing Authority focused on education and employment. Ann Ryan heads up Project Alive, a department of the Authority that provides programs and services for the residents of the city’s seven public housing and mixed-income communities. “It’s better for the whole community if everyone is thriving,” she says, adding that she’s excited to work with Lollar, and believes his positive energy will sync well with current and future projects. “He has a great willingness to consider ideas and put them on the table and see if they could happen.”
Project Alive relies on public and private funds, and partners with Frederick Community College, Frederick County’s Workforce Development, the Women’s Giving Circle and the Ausherman Foundation to provide paths to success for its residents. Recently, the Rotary Club of Frederick joined the mix with RISE, (Rotarian Initiative for Successful Employment), a job prep workshop, followed by two months of paid internships. The Women’s Giving Circle assists with funds for childcare, while the Ausherman Foundation provides money for related needs, like transportation.
In Lucas Village, formerly Sagner, the unemployment rate is 29 percent, Ryan says. “A good work history, more education and mentoring support helps open doors. In the past, they had little connection with networks other than their own.”
She hopes her new boss will help get public housing residents to make another connection—to the Internet. “Every other apartment complex in town has wifi,” she says. “Here it is an obstacle to applying for jobs.”
“I am pleased about the partnership we will continue to have, and think it will even get better as PAL and the Housing Authority work towards common goals.” —Frederick Police Chief Tom Ledwell
The Housing Authority’s partnership with the Frederick Police Department in the PAL program is going strong and continues to improve, says Frederick Police Department Chief Tom Ledwell. The chief has worked with Lollar on the PAL board, and welcomes the new relationship and Lollar’s enthusiasm and commitment to working with youth.
“I am pleased about the partnership we will continue to have, and think it will even get better as PAL and the Housing Authority work towards common goals,” he says.
Aside from HOPE VI, the most significant addition to the Housing Authority’s mission in the modern era was taking over Section 8 vouchers from the city in the late ’90s, according to Justice. The vouchers are subsidized rent payments for qualified residents, but the 600 vouchers issued to the Housing Authority do not begin to cover the need. The waiting list, Justice says, has 1,000 people on it, and has been closed for two years.
During her tenure, she says she is most proud of the successes of the residents of public housing. While not as immediate or tangible as a building going up, Justice says, the most rewarding part of her job has been watching some residents become self-sufficient, earn degrees and move out of public housing. “Those successes take longer. You see a lot of failures so you have to pay attention to those who succeed, because that’s what makes it worth it,” Justice says.
Her replacement knows he is taking on a huge task, fraught with challenges. “I am completely humbled by this opportunity,” Lollar says. “This is a big responsibility and it is going to take an entire village to make this work so we can live up to the potential of the Housing Authority.”