Pickets say HUD was rude Officials issue letters of apology

August 19, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

After some 30 members of an advocacy group picketed the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development yesterday over alleged rude treatment, HUD apologized to the group.

Members of Citizens for Housing and New Grassroots Empowerment (CHANGE) also complained that local HUD officials did not view them as partners in efforts to solve problems in public housing. CHANGE members include public housing residents and representatives of nonprofit housing groups.

"We want respect!" chanted the protesters, who carried signs demanding a partnership with the local HUD office.

After the protest, Tom Coleman, HUD's attorney, and Maxine Saunders, local HUD manager, issued letters of apology.

In his letter, Mr. Coleman also promised to "strive to be more sensitive and less legalistic in addressing your concerns. I have always shared your goals of empowerment and self-determination and will continue to do so."

Ms. Saunders also promised to forge a partnership with CHANGE. "We will work earnestly to . . . foster genuine partnerships with public housing residents," she wrote.

According to CHANGE, the problem with HUD began in July when the agency billed the group $50 for documents pertaining to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's budgetary problems. CHANGE had requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

On Aug. 3, the group met with Mr. Coleman to discuss a waiver of the fees. CHANGE charged that during the meeting, Mr. Coleman was "arrogant," addressed members in "a cold and legalistic manner," and told them they "did not grasp" federal regulations. A HUD spokesman said that agency rules state it must charge copying costs for FOI requests unless the requesting party can prove the public interest would be served. HUD had questioned whether all of the city's public housing residents -- and not just CHANGE members -- would be given access to the documents, the spokesman said.

On Aug. 9, HUD reversed itself and turned over the documents at no charge. But CHANGE decided to picket anyway.

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