Citizens ask tougher regulations Crowd of 200 demonstrates for better city

October 09, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

About 200 members of city community groups filled War Memorial Plaza last evening and called for changes in laws regulating liquor stores, rental housing and military-style assault weapons.

The demonstration was organized by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. Some of the protesters showed up with brooms to dramatize their call for sweeping changes to improve conditions in troubled city neighborhoods.

"You're here because you are concerned about your city," said the Rev. Norman Handy of the City-Wide Liquor Coalition, a group that is trying to banish liquor advertisements from neighborhoods and to make liquor store owners responsible for cleaning up trash outside their businesses. "We're here to lay down the litany of what is wrong. We're here to show them we have empowerment. Our signs are our symbols that we care."

Many attending the rally held signs supporting legislation pending before the City Council.

Some of the bills would force changes in the housing code -- one proposal would require landlords to register with the city to make it easier for them to be cited for housing code violations.

Another bill would increase from $10 to $20 the annual registration fees charged for rental properties so that the city's force of 100 housing inspectors could be increased. The additional fees would total $800,000.

One resident, Linda Terrell, who rents from low-income landlord R. William Connolly Jr. in East Baltimore, nervously made her first public speech.

"We need help from the City Council to enforce our laws," said Ms. Terrell, speaking for Citizens For Decent Housing, a group of tenants seeking to force Mr. Connolly to repair housing code violations in his 517 rental properties.

"We want to help prevent bad landlords from getting rich off of low-income tenants who live in housing that's not suitable for human habitation," she said.

As part of the landlord-licensing bill that Ms. Terrell supports, the mayor would appoint a five-member volunteer commission to oversee complaints about landlords.

The commission could vote to suspend or revoke a landlord's license, which could lead to a fine of $500 per day if the proposal passes.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke encouraged the group to continue to work for change. She jokingly referred to the protesters as "trouble-makers."

"Hope is in people coming together and believing in our individual strength," Ms. Clarke told the crowd.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart Simms urged the residents to work toward a ban on assault weapons in the city.

A coalition against childhood lead poisoning had dressed abou20 children as yellow canaries, symbolic of the birds long sent into coal mines as testers.

The children, the coalition charges, are the testers of the 1990s because many live in lead-infested apartments and houses.

Many of the protesters complained that the city Department of Housing and Community Development is too slow in enforcing housing code violations.

"We're from Mount Washington and one of the weaknesses of the city is the lack of housing enforcement," said Larry Kloze, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood.

"We see a lot of housing code violations going unenforced and the city in recent years has put the burden on the individual, but I feel we need to have an adequate housing department and adequate housing inspectors. It really affects the quality of life in Baltimore."

Ed Munnings of the Bel Air-Edison community group said he is a volunteer housing inspector in his community and is frustrated by the city's lack of follow-up when violations are found.

"When you turn the violations in, it seems like it takes forever to get anything done, sometimes as long as two years," Mr. Munnings said. "We need to license those suckers [landlords] and make 'em come public from where they're hiding. I would love to write tickets on their trash."

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