The ‘AFRO’ takes a look at the HOME Investment Partnerships Program in Prince George’s County and the increased scrutiny it’s come under since the arrest of former County Executive Jack Johnson.

When Prince George’s County used HOME Investment Partnership Program funding to put together a package to renovate homes at Sugar Hill, an 11-home development on Route 301 in Upper Marlboro, it seemed like the county was taking its responsibility to keep residents in their homes seriously. However, a closer look at the deal reveals who really is benefiting from the funds.

In 2005, Dr. Mirza H.A. Baig, a long-time business partner of former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and major campaign contributor, bought the homes in the development for $610,000. The homes were subsidized for low and very low-income residents.

According to campaign finance reports, Baig donated over $11,000 to the 2002 and 2006 county executive campaigns set up by Jack Johnson and in 2006 and 2010, $3,000 to slates benefiting Councilman Sam Dean of District 6, where the property is located.

Residents who lived in the homes received HUD vouchers to assist with the payments. Baig, under his company, Amina Limited Partnership, became the beneficiary of a Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract that made sure he was getting at least $16,300 from HUD and the residents monthly.

But in February 2008, things turned sour. Baig was negligent on the upkeep of the property and thus had his HAP contract suspended for “failure to maintain the project in a decent, safe and sanitary condition.” In a letter sent to Baig, HUD stated that Baig would have to assist in relocating any residents still occupying the property even if the HAP contract ended before the relocation process did.

“The Department will instruct its Accounting Division to abate payments from the project’s HAP contract upon the events described in this Notice,” Mary Ann Henderson, director of the Chesapeake Multifamily division of HUD, said in her letter. “Of course, the owner may not properly seek or obtain project-based Section 8 payments for any abated units notwithstanding any action or inaction by the department’s Accounting Division to prohibit payment to the owner for abated units.”

Baig attempted to sell the property, which the county assessed at $3 million. With major issues selling the property arising, the county took action.

In March of this year, at the request of Johnson, the County Council amended an action plan to finance $1.7 million renovation of Sugar Hill to Roots of Mankind, a non-profit housing counseling service based in Temple Hills.

However, $1.2 million of that funding went directly to the acquisition of the property from Baig in a much larger deal. Cynthia Whitmire, director of programs at Roots of Mankind, said Baig originally wanted $2.4 million for the property, but the county brokered a deal for the lesser amount in exchange for Baig joining the group as a partner. That partnership created Romwood Square.

Whitmire told the AFRO county law states that Roots of Mankind must maintain 51 percent ownership in what will be a model for deals the county hopes to have in the future for non-profits and for-profits.

She said that Roots of Mankind is now the property manager of the project relieving Baig of any situation where he would be solely responsible for upkeep of Sugar Hill, but said that because he does share in expenses, he does share in revenue.

County documents say rent at the properties will run from $1,488 to 1,799 per month for the 11 units.

Baig has not been implicated in any of the corruption charges facing Johnson.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO