Tenants irate their handsome building is a magnet for criminals

July 06, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Valerie Williams was in the hallway of her West Baltimore apartment building when a man approached and pushed what she thought was a gun in her back.

He forced her to empty her purse. No money. He told her to turn out her pockets. Again, no money.

"Then he said, 'I know where you women put your money,' and made me open my blouse," Ms. Williams recalls with horror.

While their building is handsome, tenants at the recently renovated Frederick Douglass Apartments say it isn't safe.

Locks on the entry doors are frequently broken. There are no security guards. As a result, the three-story building at Calhoun and Baker streets is, in the words of one resident, "open to the public."

Halls, storage rooms and stairways are frequently vandalized by outsiders. Alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes wander the halls at all hours, tenants say.

"There's drugs in the lobby, sex on the front and [the steps] are used as a bathroom," said Sandra Scott, who has found everything from syringes to used condoms in the building's common stairways and halls.

Otis Warren, who heads the management company that runs the building, said the firm is well aware of problems with security. But it doesn't know what to do about them.

"The problem is simply to keep those doors fixed," Mr. Warren said.

He said repair crews are dispatched everytime the locks on the doors are broken by vandals, a frequent occurrence. The problem is exacerbated by tenants who sometimes prop the doors open for convenience, Mr. Warren said.

The 100-unit building could not afford to hire security guards without raising rents considerably, he said, adding that he would like to see the tenants form groups to patrol the halls.

Ms. Williams said she has not felt safe in those halls since the assault one month ago.

"I'm running through the halls now to get to my apartment. I'm always looking over my shoulder," she said. "I'm just a nervous wreck."

Tenants say the stately building, which was renovated and opened for occupancy in 1990, has become a magnet for criminal activity from throughout the neighborhood.

Drug deals are often interrupted by residents, who say they have to "step around" users and dealers to get to their apartments. Some tenants say "get high" parties are common in the building stairwells.

"If there's no one here to stop them from getting into the building to get high or ask them to leave, they feel as though they can do whatever they want to right here," said one tenant who declined to give his name. "Why should residents have to risk their lives at the place where they live?"

Ms. Scott, who has lived in the building for about one year, said a vandal recently broke into an electrical room and disconnected her telephone service.

"That meant that if something happened to me I couldn't even call for help," she said. "Everything you can imagine happens here."

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