Neighborhood Guerrilla Wars

October 01, 1993

The future of many once-stable Baltimore City neighborhoods is in doubt. Unabated flight of the middle class to the surrounding counties is altering the character of residential streets. Homes are being turned into rental properties as homeowners fail to sell them on the glutted market.

Renters seldom have a real stake in a neighborhood. They are relatively free to move on if they do not like their lodgings or the environment.

When good tenants leave because the neighborhood is changing, they are often replaced by renters who are less particular about where and how they live as long as the price is right.

Reporter Melody Simmons recently described an extreme case and the conflicts it has produced. Her article focused on an apartment house in Waverly where at least 24 people are crowded into five one-bedroom apartments renting for $250 a month each. Conditions inside the apartment house -- owned by William Connolly Jr., one of the city's most notorious slumlords -- are deplorable. Those who live there are people willing or forced to accept minimum standards.

The apartment house at 644 Parkwyrth Avenue has gradually turned into a sore that is infecting a stable residential neighborhood with pain and fear. Long-time residents complain of unruly children, vandalism and noise at all hours. Residents of No. 644, in turn, feel their neighbors are "trying to run everybody out of here," as one renter complained.

The tension has grown so bad a city mediator will soon start to work with the warring camps. Such problems are not limited to this particular Waverly case but are felt throughout the city.

In many instances, they result from an unreconcilable clash between the values of people who work for a living and are accustomed to traditional behavior patterns, and people who do not have to follow any set schedule. Blaring car horns or loud music at 3 a.m. may not disturb the latter group but it surely angers the former. If the irritants continue, those who cannot take it move out.

This is a serious problem throughout the city -- and the Schmoke administration should recognize it as such. More aggressive enforcement of zoning laws and codes is needed. Bad tenants and irresponsible landlords need to be brought to the task. Otherwise the city will continue to bleed.

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