Lexington Terrace families must struggle daily to endure

LIVING HELL

January 20, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Seen from Martin Luther King Boulevard, the 11-story brick building at 734 W. Fayette St. in the Lexington Terrace public housing development appears to have been abandoned. Chilly January winds whistle through its broken doors and missing windows.

Yet 69 families live in the rundown, 110-unit, high-rise building in West Baltimore that one tenant described as "a living hell."

The families have a bunker mentality. They are survivors in the cruel game of life in Baltimore's public housing projects. They are confronted daily by armed drug dealers, discarded hypodermic syringes and empty crack cocaine vials. Antiquated heating and sewage systems make everyday living uncomfortable. Calls for maintenance go ignored for months.

Officials of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which manages public housing, visited Lexington Terrace earlier this month and were shocked by the blighted 734 building. Days later, Robert W. Hearn, the authority's executive director, unveiled a plan to close the building and move the tenants into another run-down high-rise building at Lexington Terrace, which has five of them.

But the residents, weary of living in the crime-infested high-rises, protested having to move into another high-rise. They said yesterday they plan to fight Mr. Hearn's plan and lobby for safer and more sanitary housing.

"I think this is a danger not only to me and my children's life and health, but to other tenants as well," Marceline Sparrow, tenant, wrote on Monday to a local housing advocate. "I am closing this letter [by saying] I really think it's time for someone to answer our prayers."

Ms. Sparrow, a 31-year-old mother of four, lives in a mildewed and roach-infested apartment on the sixth floor at 734. She must bathe by candlelight because of an electrical problem in the bathroom. Water runs without interruption from the spigot in the kitchen because the spigot's valves don't work. Her 5-year-old son, Darilyn Watson, recently contracted a bacterial infection in his eye from the mildew in the apartment, and must undergo minor surgery next week, she said.

On another floor, a stray cat cries to be freed from a vacant and vandalized apartment that has been sloppily boarded up by housing authority maintenance workers.

Children play on filthy mattresses discarded in the hallways and get skin rashes from bugs and germs, said Latray Lifford, a tenant at 734.

Three-year-old Keianna Jones has been warned not to go near any of the vacant apartments because she could easily tumble out of the windowless cavities that pockmark the rooms.

"This is a living hell," said Audrey Truitt, who lives on the 11th floor. "You have no cooperation from the management and the maintenance. I have to add water to my toilet to flush it because the water pressure is so bad it doesn't fill up the bowl. The heat also doesn't make it up to my floor, so I have no heat. I use my stove."

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