Six months have passed since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered the city housing authority to draft a plan for moving families out of public housing high-rises, but so far, housing officials have failed to come up with a plan.
The mayor's order followed a task force's finding that crime and vandalism made the high-rises unsafe for children. The task force recommended moving 2,000 people from 18 public housing buildings in Murphy Homes, Lexington Terrace, Flag House Courts and Lafayette Courts, and relocating the residents in low-rise buildings. The task force also recommended that the city use the high-rises for single adults, including the elderly.
So far, the housing authority has not targeted a single high-rise for conversion to an adults-only building and the city has not come up with the money to make the change.
Housing Authority deputy executive director Juanita Harris said she recently appointed another task force made up of public housing officials to look at funding possibilities and to select a high-rise for conversion. "This is the first opportunity I've had to get it together and get it moving," said Harris.
The original 14-member task force, which met for nine months, included public housing tenants, as well as a former Baltimore housing commissioner and a former head of the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Harris said she has asked the new task force to report back to her in four to six weeks.
Work of the original task force was carried out by Margaret Williams, a former city deputy housing commissioner who was working for the housing authority on a one-year contract that was to run out in June.
Williams found another job and left the housing authority in March. Before she left, Williams had begun exploring ways to move families out of the high-rises and re-use the buildings. She had also outlined the federal government's procedures for writing a plan to transfer tenants and convert the buildings.
"By the time I left, nobody in authority had decided which [high-rise] project to start with. Juanita [Harris] and I never had a thoroughgoing conversation on the next steps to take or various options open to the [housing] authority in implementing the task force's goals," said Williams.
The chairman of the original task force, Michael Kelly, said the news that the housing authority has not moved forward "is not a complete surprise."
"It is a very daunting task to undertake, even if the administration were full speed behind it. I'm not that discouraged. It does take a lot of mobilization. If it were a year from now I'd be worried," said Kelly.