Schmoke promises to improve high-rise conditions

January 30, 1993|By Melody Simmons and Michael A. Fletcher | Melody Simmons and Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writers

Wearing khaki pants, sneakers and a leather jacket, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke toured Lexington Terrace high-rises last night and promised better living conditions for the tenants who live in the blighted complex.

Residents in one run-down high-rise were scheduled to start moving out this weekend as Housing Authority officials study a plan to renovate the high-rise in the 700 block of W. Fayette St. at a cost of $2.5 million, the mayor said.

During a walking tour with an entourage that included city police, Housing Authority police, state politicians, a horde of reporters and curious residents, the mayor listened to the concerns of several residents.

Sharon Wright, 30, told the mayor her children have been horrified by three murders that occurred in the last 12 months at her high-rise at 701 W. Mulberry St.

"I don't feel adequate as a mother trying to survive here," Ms. Wright said. "This is no way for children to grow up."

The mayor tried to point toward a better future for the tenants, but he warned that changes will take time.

"We can't do it all with a magic wand in one week or one month," the mayor said. "I keep seeing silver linings in this. The silver lining is we now have tenant involvement."

Mr. Schmoke toured the complex at the request of tenants who last week invited public officials to spend the night at the development and "wake up the same way we do."

The mayor was led through two of the high-rises for about three hours and saw the array of structural problems from broken water pipes to peeling lead paint.

Afterward, he went over to the Mount Olive Free Will Baptist Church, where he met one-on-one with tenants. It appeared unlikely that the mayor would spend the entire night at the housing project.

Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington-Poe Tenant's Council, said there really would be no point to that.

"What the tenants want him to see, he'll never see," she explained. "It's like people don't steal when the police are watching."

Last weekend, the mayor made a quick visit to Lexington Terrace and said, "I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing" after walking through some of the high-rise apartments.

He apologized for the shoddy conditions at the drug-plagued development during a meeting later.

The mayor also promised to move about 69 families out of one of the high-rises and relocate them to safer, low-rise units.

Just after Mr. Schmoke's visit last week, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke arrived at Lexington Terrace to spend the night.

The tenants are concerned about a 25 percent vacancy rate in the five high-rises and a lack of maintenance by Housing Authority officials who, they say, have ignored their requests to repair broken faucets, malfunctioning heat valves and peeling paint.

The problems have festered for so long that some tenants are expected to begin a rent strike Monday by placing their February payments into an escrow account until repairs are made, said Ms. Ledbetter. Rents range from $36 to $500 per month.

Yesterday morning, Ms. Ledbetter presented the management office with more than 100 written requests for maintenance from 83 tenants.

While she was inside the office, maintenance workers were cleaning up Lexington Terrace in preparation for Mr. Schmoke's visit.

Vacant apartments that had been windowless for months were boarded up while trash trucks, electricians and plumbers combed through the high-rises making repairs before the mayor arrived. .

"After the mayor leaves, there won't be no more cleaning," said Valerie Talley, a 31-year-old mother of three. "There won't be no more cleaning until we fight for it."

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