Annie Arrington, a long-time resident of East Baltimore's Claremont Homes, says what her public housing project needs more than anything else is police protection from the drug dealers who all but run the place.
"We need stronger security there. We are surrounded by the drugs," she says. "We need high security; no jive time."
Mrs. Arrington was among 300 public housing tenants who last night surprised officials with their numbers and packed a meeting room at the War Memorial. They were there ostensibly to comment on how the Baltimore City Housing Authority should spend $130 million expected from the federal government over the next five years. Next year, the Housing Authority will receive $39 million of that sum.
Much of the money is slated to replace balky elevators and faulty trash compactors and repair balconies, roofs, floors and heating equipment throughout the city's 18,000 public housing units. There will also be money targeted for social programs aimed at attacking the crime and drug problems and improving the tenants' skills to manage the projects.
But residents who spoke last night were less concerned with fine-tuning the spending plan than they were with lashing out about the harsh conditions in public housing.
"We need action," said Edward Arrington, who followed his wife, Annie, to the microphone. "The elevators break down when they want to. And the man comes to fix them when he wants to. And the drugs are plentiful. The dealers don't care who knows it."
Shirley Johnson lives in Lafayette Courts, an East Baltimore project where housing officials hope someday to demolish most of the high-rise buildings and replace them with low-rise structures.
The Lafayette Courts plan would cost an estimated $58.5 million and was included in a $493 million capital needs budget that the city sent to the federal government.
And while the plan includes money to modernize the development's low-rise units, pay for some design work and convert one of the six high-rise building to housing for senior citizens, demolition was not among the projects included in the plan sent to the federal government.
Most of the plan was too long-range for Ms. Johnson. "We need help and we need it now," she said. "When you go outside, you have to duck bullets."
Kimi Kelly, a resident of Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore, called the repair plans for public housing hopeless. She said the projects -- especially the high-rises -- simply must go.
"They can clean them up all they want, but they need to blow them up, or bang them down, whatever," Ms. Kelly said.
Housing officials touted the hearing as part of its efforts to solicit comment from tenants as the officials refine their spending plans. But Barbara McKinney, who has lived in Lexington Terrace for 34 years and is a tenant organizer, called the meeting a sham. She said conditions in the projects are terrible and top officials already know it.
In one building at Lexington Terrace, she said, the drug dealers instruct tenants to leave their apartment doors open so they can easily flee from police. Tenants who don't abide by those orders, she said, are risking their necks.