Tenants angered by move from high-rise to high-rise

January 15, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Some Lexington Terrace residents reacted angrily yesterday to a plan to move them from one blighted high-rise to another in the crime-plagued West Baltimore public housing complex.

The tenants learned this week that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City plans to close a vandalized high-rise at 734 W. Fayette St. because it is 24 percent vacant and spend $500,000 to renovate an adjacent high-rise at 770 W. Saratoga St.

Under the plan, the residents' moving expenses would be paid by the Housing Authority and the relocations from the 110-unit building would begin in early spring.

The authority also plans to add two officers to its 45-member police force to patrol the renovated building.

The plan drew harsh criticism from about 75 residents who jeered and heckled Reggie Scriber, a Housing Authority official who explained it to them at the meeting at Lexington Terrace. They told Mr. Scriber they want to be offered apartments in low-rise buildings in other public housing projects. Low-rise buildings are considered safer because they don't have stairwells in which drug dealers can set up shop.

"If you don't think we are damn fools then what are you doing it for?" asked Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington-Poe tenants council. "We've been begging them [housing officials] for two years to come up and look at these buildings . . . and they never came. It takes them too long to fix up the buildings -- they're all in bad shape here. We don't want your plan. Go back to the Housing Authority. Goodbye."

Some residents of the building designated to be vacated said they were making their own plans.

Daphne Conway said she would rather return to a homeless shelter than move to another high-rise apartment. Kimula Weathers said she will dig in and refuse to move.

But Lisa Sampson, a 27-year-old single mother, said she would ** accept the new apartment, albeit reluctantly, because "I have no choice."

"You don't move us from one hole to another hole," Deanna Woodard shouted at Mr. Scriber. "That building looks worse. We're not moving there. They think that because people live in a project that they have no sense. But we do."

Mr. Scriber listened patiently, but stood firm. "I told you the plan. We intend to carry it out," he said. "You may not like it but your input will have to be more substantive than what we have at this moment. You asked for something to be done. We're doing it."

Overall, Baltimore's 18 public housing high-rises -- 2,183 units -- have an 18 percent vacancy rate. Lexington Terrace's five high-rises has a total of 580 units, of which 142 are vacant. Many of the vacant apartments have been trashed by vandals and drug abusers.

Mr. Scriber said that he and Robert W. Hearn, executive director of the Housing Authority, had not been aware of the severity of the living conditions at Lexington Terrace until last Friday when they toured two of the high-rises. At that time, Mr. Hearn promised to unveil a plan to curb the vandalism and lower the vacancy rate in the development.

Lexington Terrace is in the 6th Councilmanic District. One of the district's three City Council members, Melvin L. Stukes, attended the meeting yesterday and was sympathetic to the tenants' complaints. Mr. Stukes said the $500,000 to be used for renovation "is not even enough to put a Band-Aid on the problem."

He said that after the meeting he wrote to U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes and Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, asking them to tour Lexington Terrace by the end of January in the hope they can find federal funds for more renovations.

"Something needs to be done, we need help," Mr. Stukes said of the troubled development. "This [residents' anger] is frustration of years built to a boiling point."

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