Tenants may dance at wrecker's ball

READY TO LOSE A HOME

January 23, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr.

Stephanie Harris, who has lived in Lafayette Courts for four years, likes the thought that several high-rise buildings may be demolished at the East Baltimore public housing development, but she has one regret: that the proposal to do so wasn't made about 3 1/2 years sooner.

"Too bad they waited this long. If they were to tell me today -- right now -- that they had plans to relocate me somewhere else so they could tear this place down, I'd be ready to go tonight," she said.

"I've been trying real hard to relocate since I got here. Every year I try to relocate."

Ms. Harris, 23, was reacting yesterday to a city housing authority proposal calling for the demolition of five of the six high-rise buildings at Lafayette Courts and replacing them with two-story low-rises.

The 14-story buildings have long been the scene of drug activity and shootings. Many residents are fearful of leaving their apartments. If the demolition plan is approved, the new buildings would have fewer obstructed areas where drug dealers can congregate, housing officials said.

Under the proposal, Lafayette Courts would still have one high-rise apartment building which would be renovated to house elderly and disabled tenants.

Although the plan would mean the relocation of many residents, the prospect of razing the five high-rises was greeted with relief, high fives and prayers.

"It should be done. Crime is coming here from all over the city," said Helen King, 49, who has lived in the high-rise at 200 Aisquith St. for 18years. "They have talked about doing it for years, and the tenants are tired of it."

The city needs $58 million in federal money to implement the plan, which was unveiled on Tuesday. Approval by the U.S. Department ofHousing and Urban Development would be necessary.

Sharon Towers, 30, who lives with her brother in the high-rise at 1101 Orleans St., spends much of her day looking out into the Lafayette Courts courtyard from the fenced-in hallway in front of her apartment.

"Look out there and tell me what you see," said Ms. Towers, staring at a courtyard dotted with loitering men.

"They are drug dealers. They know, I know it -- everyone knows it. It's not as though they try to hide what they're doing. I don't like coming home and the first thing I see is a drug dealer outside of my building. Then I come inside and you don't know who is waiting for you in the hallways or stairwells."

Because of its two-story dimensions, the proposed new housing would not have stairwells, where drug deals are common.

Lafayette Court residents say they are concerned about the lack of security in the high-rises. The housing authority does not staff the guard booths in the buildings and residents no longer volunteer to man them because the job is too dangerous.

"The guard situation around here is a myth," Ms. Tower said. "Because there is no guard, anyone can come in here. The drug dealers are here more than anyone else and they go into the stairway where they can't be seen."

A police narcotics officer, who asked not to be identified, also expressed concern about the lack of security in the high-rises at Lafayette Courts. He confirmed the tenants' assertion that drug dealers have a free run of the buildings.

"There are chains on the back doors to keep them closed. They weren't put there by housing authority [police]. They were put there bythe dealers," the officer said. "They want to control who comes in and who leaves."

Ms. Harris, who lives with her 4-month-old and 4-year-old daughters in the 1101 Orleans St. high-rise, said security is not her only concern.

Since Friday, Ms. Harris said, she and at least two neighbors have been without heat. Yesterday, she sought to stay warm by turning on the oven and stove burners.

"I called them yesterday because you can't call them on weekends unless it's an emergency," Ms. Harris said.

Asked if being without heat in the frigid weekend weather, when temperatures dipped into the teens, could be considered an emergency, Ms. Harris said, "I think so, but I didn't think they would come for this."

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