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The Nose

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ Down “Kevin’s” Door

City Paper Digi-Cam™
2237 Linden Ave.

Posted 6/29/2005

The real estate listing spoke of great promise for the house at 2237 Linden Ave., a three-story attached single-family home with a garage and a nice-sized yard: “Vision, enthusiasm & dreams are great tools when looking at this property,” the Jan. 4 listing gamely read. “Reservoir Hill is the next Mecca for visionaries & trendsetters. Invest now & gain instant equity on settlement day.”

The asking price: $135,000.

Then the house fell down.

And now, it seems, no one was responsible for it—especially Michael Mfume, the ex-con son of would-be senator Kweisi Mfume. Michael Mfume oversaw the property, told a city inspector he was the “owner’s representative,” and has since ducked inquiries about what happened.

The Nose learned of the collapse more than a month ago and was intrigued. Reservoir Hill is an alleged “it” neighborhood; even rotten shells are being saved (supposedly) through an array of valiant city programs and partnerships with do-gooder real estate agents and deep-pocketed rehabbers. And yet, beneath this facade of shiny, happy gentrification—at the level of the actual work—we keep hearing tales of shoddy contractors, underpaid junkie workers, and dangerously stupid construction practices.

In the case of 2237 Linden, few had much to say except that a guy they knew as “Mike” was in charge of the work crew. A Nose-penned letter to owner-of-record Henry Kent’s Severna Park address came back as “undeliverable.”

Neighbors say the house was set upon by a crew that began dismantling it in February, then abandoned the project. “Walking by you could see there were no [floor] joists,” says Remington Stone, who awaits city transfer of a Reservoir Hill home he won the right to buy last November. “There were about six weeks when you could walk in it before it fell down.”

Someone representing either Linden Gardens or JBD Construction (the paperwork is not clear) pulled a permit on Feb. 14 to do “interior demo only” and “removal of debris” from the house. The signature is illegible.

On April 19, according to Housing Authority of Baltimore City records, city inspectors responded to a “partial collapse” of the home’s walls. Baltimore superintendent of building inspection John Cole called the phone number listed on the permit and reached a man who, according to an internal Housing Authority memo issued by Cole, “identified himself as Rich Goodman who stated he had nothing to do with the property and did not know how his number got on the permit.”

On the following day, April 20, Cole “spoke to Michael Mfume who stated he was the owner’s representative,” according to the memo. “Mr. Mfume stated that this has never happened before and that the city should proceed to finish the [demolition] work due to damage/safety issues.”

The estimated cost was $47,221. “There will be a lien placed on the property” to recoup that amount, Cole tells the Nose.

In fact, the building had been condemned by the city in 2000 and deemed a “safety hazard” by a city inspector in August 2002, according Housing Authority records. Inspectors recommended it for demolition in both those years, but the city took no action beyond posting a condemnation sign and sending owner Henry Kent a letter—at the abandoned 2237 Linden Ave. address.

The Nose had better luck with the phone number from the permit. The person who answered that phone on Tuesday, June 14, admitted he was involved with the demolition of 2237 Linden, gave his name as Kevin, and refused to identify himself further or state the name of his partners or the building’s owners. “They won’t want to talk to you,” he said, though he promised to pass a message to them.

Michael Mfume’s estranged business partner, Eugene “Tony” Kirkland, a developer/psychotherapist who heads the Anchor House network of homes for addicts, contends that “Kevin” is Mfume.

“He’s the only one who answers that phone,” Kirkland says, although he also says he has not spoken to Mfume for nine months, and that he “only knew the man tangentially.”

For his part, Kevin insists he and his partners have the best intentions. “We hired a structural engineer,” he claims. “Unfortunately, the contractor we hired—unfortunately he got there a day or maybe a week too late. The roof had collapsed.”

On the bright side: “We were able to save 4,000 bricks.”

Kevin tells the Nose several tall tales, such as the garage is still standing (it’s not), the collapse did not damage the adjacent house (it did), and that his company specializes in tough renovations and has “an extremely good track record when it comes to doing those things” (he could not supply the address of a single other renovation job he has done—though neighbors say they spotted “Mike” working on two other houses on that block in the past year). But Kevin’s most intriguing claim was that his crew removed an asbestos-covered boiler from the property.

“We’re certified to remove those, unlike a lot of people in the neighborhood who just get people down and put it in a Dumpster,” Kevin says. “The best thing about it is, we know what we’re doing.”

Maybe. But there are no asbestos-related permits, and no licensed asbestos-removal contractors listed on any of the permits pulled—including the company the city contracted, P&J.

But Kevin’s finest statement, the one best reflecting that Reservoir Hill Spirit, was that he’s about to rebuild. “We plan,” he says, “to sell this first house for a million dollars.”

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