Squatters still in house as city ignores deadline BALTIMORE CITY

November 20, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Housing officials let pass their own Nov. 16 deadline for starting eviction proceedings against an activist and a family of five who are squatters in an East Baltimore rowhouse owned by the city.

Instead, the parties in the dispute are "sitting on opposite sides of town writing letters" to each other, trying to reach a compromise, Bill Toohey, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore, said yesterday.

The situation could easily become a public relations nightmare for the Housing Authority, Mr. Toohey acknowledged this week.

Authority Executive Director Robert L. Hearn tiptoed around the subject, saying after a news conference at City Hall, "We are trying to reason with them. We are trying to move them out peacefully."

In September, Riker "Rocky" McKenzie and his supporters took over the house at 1743 E. Eager St. and renovated it with $25,000 of their own money and donations.

He set up the Riker (Rocky) McKenzie Human Development Center in the house and runs a homeless shelter there.

Last week, he moved Geniece Brenner, 27, and her four young children into the narrow, three-story dwelling that he furnished with $5,000 of his own money.

Mr. McKenzie, 44, a vice president of Local 333 of the International Longshoremen's Association, and his supporters did all that without proper permits and without city approval of their renovation plans. Also, the house, which by federal law is reserved for public housing, is not zoned for a shelter.

Also, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had slated the dwelling for renovation, beginning next month, so that it could be rented to a low-income family.

Last month, the Housing Authority ordered Mr. McKenzie not to step inside the dwelling, offered him another dwelling to use as a shelter and said it would begin eviction proceedings against him he didn't inform them of his intentions by Nov. 16.

None of that matters to Mr. McKenzie, who has dug in. He often can be found in the living room of the disputed house, writing letters to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.; Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th; Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; and members of the City Council, arguing his case.

Mr. McKenzie, who grew up in the neighborhood but now lives in Baltimore County, is proceeding with a $25-per-ticket fashion show this weekend at Morgan State University to benefit the center.

He has gained the support of 500 neighborhood residents who have signed a petition supporting the center.

"What we're doing doesn't cost them a dime," Mr. McKenzie said of the Housing Authority. "It's the people's property -- not their property. It's our tax dollars that make it possible for them to have funds to purchase those properties."

He scoffs at the government's guidelines and procedures, saying they are responsible for the blight of vacant houses, and hTC the resultant crime and drug-dealing that are prevalent in this low-income area near the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Those procedures are responsible for us having the amount of drugs in that old house," Mr. McKenzie said. "They deteriorate the neighborhood and leave those homeowners who are here at a risk to that bad element that comes into the neighborhood. And they hurt businesses that want to locate into the neighborhood and that takes away work opportunities for the residents."

In a Nov. 16 letter to the authority, Mr. McKenzie wrote, "We armaking employment opportunities for the people in this neighborhood, in addition to reducing crime, violence and other drug-related shootings and killings. We are only doing what you all have said all along that needs to be done."

Mr. McKenzie has made several offers to buy the rowhouse from the authority, but buying it would cause another problem.

A HUD regulation states that a replacement house must be purchased for each unit that is sold or destroyed. To get around that, Mr. McKenzie said, he has offered to help the authority renovate another vacant dwelling.

?3 "I feel frustrated as hell," Mr. McKenzie said.

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