Attack on crime and grime

June 03, 1993

This week's $208,000 cleanup blitz at the Flag House Courts high-rise public housing project sends important signals all over the city.

The message to residents of public housing complexes is that the Housing Authority is taking serious steps to stop the uncontrolled deterioration and crime that have been allowed to continue far too long at the 17 federally funded high-rises. This is the time for those residents who care about their apartment buildings to join the effort and help to turn their complexes around.

The signal to Housing Authority employees is that things are changing there as well. Since taking office in late April, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III has been sending this message through wholesale reassignments of employees. Those who still don't get it need to understand that the Housing Authority is renewing itself and will have low tolerance for inaction and complacency.

The signal to Baltimoreans who may have never been inside a housing project is that thousands of law-abiding people live in those complexes. Many of them are the working poor, many of whom are trying to raise families, many of whom are eager to improve their lot in life.

If the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development agrees with the concept and gives the money, Baltimore wants to replace most of its aging public housing high-rises. Lafayette Courts, near the Main Post Office, is the first complex slated for demolition and reconstruction as garden apartments. Similar plans are being prepared for the Lexington Terrace towers and Flag House Courts.

Even if the federal government approves this approach, such a demolition and rebuilding would take years. But unless attitudes are changed, rebuilding will do little lasting good. Tenants have to be taught to care about the apartments that they occupy. Housing Authority employees will have to be retrained to seek allies among responsible tenants in their difficult task to keep the projects in spic'n'span order.

We urge Mr. Henson to follow the Flag House Courts cleanup with a thorough review of current Housing Authority policies and procedures. Too many tenants think they are automatically entitled to unlimited numbers of free lock changes or replacements of refrigerators and other appliances that have been damaged or vandalized, often purposefully, inside their units.

Changing old habits and uncaring attitudes won't be easy or painless. (We noted, for instance, that the flowers planted Tuesday were wilting yesterday. Someone needs to water them!) But renewed energy and attention to detail is a small price to pay to make public housing livable again.

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