Former high-rise tenants move to 'new beginning'

February 06, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Yesterday morning, Winnie Wilson bid farewell to the rotten window shades, peeling paint and broken plumbing of the 11th floor of her Lexington Terrace high-rise and moved one mile -- and a whole universe -- away.

Slipping the key into 425 Oxford Court in nearby McCulloh Homes, Ms. Wilson marveled as she walked up the stairs to her new kitchen, living room and then up another flight of steps to three bedrooms and a gleaming tiled bathroom.

"A shower! Hot water!" Ms. Wilson said as she tested the spraying water. "That was night down there. This is day. I love it."

The 21-year-old and her two children were among four families relocated yesterday morning from the blighted 734 W. Fayette St. high-rise into brand new low-rise apartments by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

As movers hauled sofas, beds, stuffed animals and toys into trucks, other residents who stayed behind looked on with envy.

"I'll be the only one left on this side of the floor," said Aletha Coleman, 20, who remained in her rundown 11th floor apartment with her two young children and hopes to be moved soon. "There are rat holes underneath my sink and in my bathroom. I'm scared. I'm alone here. This weekend, I'm going to stay in the house."

Last month, housing authority officials declared the high-rise uninhabitable and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that its 69 families would be moved out.

Mr. Schmoke said the building would undergo a $2.5 million face lift and may be reopened as an adult-only dwelling.

There is a 25 percent vacancy rate in the five high-rises at Lexington Terrace and many of the vacant units have been vandalized.

Last Friday night, the mayor spent eight hours walking through the blighted complex listening to the tenants' concerns.

On Jan. 23, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke accepted an invitation from tenants and spent the night there.

The crisis has even attracted the attention of Henry G. Cisneros, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who made a surprise visit to Lexington Terrace during a trip to Baltimore on Wednesday and ordered immediate federal assistance for the development.

Robert W. Hearn, executive director of the city housing authority, said yesterday he plans to meet with HUD officials on Wednesday to discuss plans for "short-term assistance" for the Lexington Terrace high-rises.

But at least 130 residents there plan to start a rent strike on Monday by placing their February rents into escrow accounts in the city's rent court, said Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington-Poe tenants' council.

The escrow accounts are being established until the housing authority repairs the complex, Ms. Ledbetter said.

All that is history for the ex-tenants, who today are unpacking their belongings in clean, new apartments that rent for the same amount they were paying at Lexington Terrace -- between $60 and $500 per month.

"I'm happy that I'm gone, but I'm sad for the ones still down there and what they've got to go through," said Ms. Wilson, who will pay $84 per month in rent.

The new apartment has provided Ms. Wilson with an incentive to return to school and pursue a nursing career, she said.

"I was a foster kid -- I grew up in foster homes and in group homes. This is my first real home, and it feels good," she said.

Monique Shearn, 21, who is seven months pregnant with her third child, was awaiting delivery of new furniture as she beamed in front of her new address on Oxford Court.

"This is a new beginning for me and my children," said Ms. Shearn, who will pay $89 per month in rent. "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure this apartment never goes down. I want to show them that I'm a person who appreciates everything they have given me."

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