Gaddy to the rescue: Evicted family gets a home Help is needed on donated house

June 19, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin and Michael James | David Michael Ettlin and Michael James,Staff Writers

Led by homeless advocate Bea Gaddy, a team of volunteer workers is reconstructing and refurbishing a dilapidated East Baltimore rowhouse for a family of 10 who were evicted earlier this week for nonpayment of rent.

Ms. Gaddy issued pleas Thursday for Portia Small and her family, evicted Tuesday from the rowhouse in which they were living in the 700 block of E. Biddle St.

The volunteers, from construction businesses and from Ms. Gaddy's homeless shelter, are rebuilding the house at 1324 N. Bond St.

"It's not the Hilton," Ms. Gaddy said to Ms. Small. "But if you get in there and fix it up, it could be your house."

The Hilton it certainly isn't, with holes in the floor, crumbling walls, broken windows and no heat or electricity. But a construction company and two contractors have donated equipment and workers in the hope of making the building -- or at least a few rooms -- livable by tomorrow night.

"We still need a plumber and an electrician, but we're hoping to have a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom finished by [tonight.] We don't have enough materials to work through the night, but we've done well with what we've got," Ms. Gaddy said.

Ms. Small and her five daughters, three grandchildren and Joey Allen, a paraplegic, were ordered out of their three-story rowhouse in the 700 block of E. Biddle St. for falling behind on rent. The family spent Tuesday night in the concrete backyards of vacant rowhouses a few doors away -- protecting their clothes, furnishings, and Mr. Allen's wheelchair from scavengers, said Ms. Small, 38.

The rent at the Biddle Street home had been $315 a month, she said, when the family had moved in on Halloween. By March, she was three months behind on the rent.

"It was problems with paying," Ms. Small said, "and him [the landlord] not fixing."

On May 13, the city Department of Housing and Community Development issued a repair order to the landlord for a three-page list of problems -- among them defective ceilings, defective floors, defective wiring and defective doors.

But the landlord, Edgar C. Green Jr., said he had numerous problems with Ms. Small as a tenant and had tried to send a repairman to the home on three occasions. But "they [the repairmen] felt threatened by a rough-looking guy who lived there and refused to do the work," Mr. Green said.

Also, on May 14, city police broke down the front door of Ms. Small's house during a drug raid that caused extensive damage to the house, Mr. Green said. Eastern District drug officers confirmed the raid, saying they arrested two men at the house and seized a small quantity of cocaine, a handgun and $400.

"They [the raiding officers] pulled the ceiling down, broke the door in half, broke the toilet, pulled up the floor boards, and tore up the sewer line," said Mr. Green.

"I don't think she [Ms. Small] is a martyr and I don't think I'm a bad landlord," he said. "I went by to see her three times before she was evicted, and she really didn't seem concerned [about being evicted.]"

A neighbor alerted Ms. Gaddy, founder of the Patterson Park Emergency Shelter, to Ms. Small's problems and she came up with the idea of moving the family into a new house. The house is one of a dozen or so owned by the emergency shelter. Ms. Gaddy has to wait for some of them to become vacant before she can move in homeless families. Some were given to the shelter, Ms. Gaddy said, but this particular house was in a group of five that had been purchased.

"Two or three thousand dollars, or some donations from contractors, could finish up the work" to give Ms. Small and her family a house "so wedon't have to be begging," she said.

Three construction firms, Geiger Land Contracting Co. of Baltimore County, Springdale Construction Co. of Baltimore and a third firm wishing to remain anonymous, have contributed either materials or physical labor on the project.

"They've fixed the holes, cleaned out the basement, added some plumbing, and given us Sheetrock, nails, two-by-fours and four-by-eights. And they're coming back tomorrow," Ms. Gaddy said.

Ms. Small helped the workers for a few hours yesterday, but "she looked so drawn because she hadn't slept, so we let her go," Ms. Gaddy said. The family was staying temporarily at another house -- back in the blighted 700 block of E. Biddle St. -- that another landlord provided free of charge for the weekend.

The temporary house, in the same block of Biddle Street as Ms. Small's old residence, would be available for the family to keep if it could raise $800, half for the monthly rent and half as a security deposit. But the family doesn't have the money.

Meanwhile, traffic in the alley behind the Bond Street home was being directed by Ms. Gaddy, a general in a pink pantsuit with a yellow krypton emergency lantern strapped over her arm and a portable cellular phone in her hand. Volunteers from her shelter and the neighborhood, as well as family members, moved a refrigerator and Mr. Allen's wheelchair. "Don't be worried -- help will come," she told a daughter of Ms. Small.

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