Sparked by a 25 percent vacancy rate at Lexington Terrace, the city Housing Authority yesterday announced plans to shut down one of the development's blighted high-rise apartment buildings and to spend $500,000 to renovate another high-rise.
Robert W. Hearn, the Housing Authority's executive director, said 69 families now reside in the building that's slated to be shut down. Those families will soon be relocated from the 11-story building at 734 W. Fayette St. to other public housing units, he added.
A Housing Authority spokesman said the 110-unit building will be shut down indefinitely.
A team of structural engineers will inspect the the building this week to evaluate its condition.
The spokesman said 41 of the building's 110 units are vacant. Many of the vacant units have been heavily damaged by vandals.
The renovation work will take place at a high-rise at 770 W. Saratoga St. Mr. Hearn said the building's security also will be beefed up.
There are more than 26,000 applicants on the city Housing Authority's waiting list.
Yet, 18 percent of the authority's 2,183 high-rise apartments are vacant.
Mr. Hearn's plan was released amid concern by local, state and federal officials over a growing number of vacant and vandalized units in the city's 18 family high-rises.
Housing advocates say the high vacancy rate is due to poor management by the Housing Authority.
But Mr. Hearn says many of the applicants on the waiting list have rejected the units, citing the crime and drug problem in the high-rises.
Jonita Jones, who lives in the building slated to be closed, said life in the high-rise is unbearable.
"I'm terrified," said Ms. Jones, a 29-year-old mother of three who pays $115 per month in rent and has lived in Lexington Terrace her entire life.
"This is pitiful," Ms. Jones said. "My feelings are hurt. They say they will relocate me, but I refuse to move back into another project. My children have seen people smoking dope and even seen people sticking up [injecting heroin] right outside of the door."
Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington-Poe Tenants Council, said she disagrees with the plan to vacate the building and keep it closed for an undetermined period of time.
"Closing it is not going to help with the upkeep of the place," Ms. Ledbetter said.
"It's still going to look like an eyesore. Many people here feel this is just a lot of talk."
Barbara Samuels, an attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau, said she was outraged by the plan.
"Putting $500,000 into one of those buildings is like spitting into the ocean," said Ms. Samuels, who works with public housing tenants.
"It appears to me that they are only planning to go back and make repairs and work from their backlog of work orders," Ms. Samuels said. Elizabeth Wright, chairwoman of the authority's Resident Advisory Board, a board of tenants that advises the authority, was also upset by the plan.
"Everything was done in secret," Ms. Wright said.
"My concern is that the board had no knowledge of any action being taken.
"I'm not sure that the residents were aware and had the option of being transferred."
Housing Authority Executive Director Robert W. Hearn detailed the plan after appointing a 20-member task force of city housing officials to oversee the project.
But the proposal angered residents and city housing advocates who complained they were not informed or included.
Tenants in both of the targeted buildings were planning to hold a meeting this morning.
Officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Baltimore office said they knew nothing of Mr. Hearn's plan and therefore could not comment on it. Zack Germroth, authority spokesman, said HUD may have to approve a part of the plan.