Tenants angry about roaches -- and bureaucracy

January 04, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Theresa Williams shudders when she moves her navy blue sofa away from the living room wall in her three-bedroom apartment in the Cherry Hill public housing development.

Exposed to the light, nearly 100 roaches scatter across the floor and into the couch. In another corner, termites have eaten into the structure of the tiny townhouse, and mice inhabit the pantry.

"These roaches are all over! They even crawl into bed with you," said Ms. Williams, who said her toddler, Octavia, has scars on her neck from roach bites.

"And the problems don't only exist with me. It's the whole row of apartments. They are roach-infested, too."

Because of those problems, Ms. Williams and some of her neighbors in the Cherry Hill and nearby Charles K. Anderson public housing developments are banding together with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national association of public housing residents.

Since mid-November, ACORN representatives have seized on those problems in an effort to organize tenants of 1,800 units in the two developments on the South Baltimore peninsula.

But they found only mixed support.

Only 50 dues-paying members have signed up and Doris Smith, president of the Cherry Hill Tenants Council, said yesterday that she has rejected the association's help because she has not been included in its fight for change.

Nevertheless, ACORN recently passed out a leaflet with five demands for change at Cherry Hill, including timely and complete repairs, recreation centers and programs for children and hiring and training residents for construction jobs.

The ACORN demands were issued in the middle of a $50 million federal rehabilitation project involving most of the 1,597 units at Cherry Hill, where some units are nearly half a century old.

So far, 600 units have been renovated at a cost of $20 million while another 637 units are to undergo a three-year, $30 million rehabilitation beginning in the spring under a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But many angry residents, including Ms. Williams and Sharone Wimbish, say that despite the costly overhaul of the Cherry Hill apartments, they have grown impatient with leaking faucets, cracked plaster and insect and rodent infestation -- problems that may not be addressed for years.

At an ACORN rally on Dec. 11, about 75 residents protested to the city Housing Authority about the decrepit conditions at the development.

"The people who live down there don't need to live that way," said Evelyn Coleman, vice president of the Cherry Hill Tenants Council and a member of ACORN.

"The problems have been going on for quite some time," Ms. Coleman said.

Zack Germroth, a Housing Authority spokesman, yesterday acknowledged a backlog of maintenance work order requests for the Cherry Hill development, but he could not say how large that backlog is.

Mr. Germroth also said that the Housing Authority may cancel an ACORN-sponsored meeting on Thursday night because Ms. Smith is refusing to recognize ACORN as an official tenant representative.

But Ms. Smith said the $50 million rehabilitation is sufficient and that tenants should not complain because many of their apartment units will be totally refurbished by 1997.

Ms. Wimbish disagreed. She said her family has lived without

cold water in their kitchen and with a hole in the ceiling of their bathroom.

Repeated requests for maintenance have been ignored, she said.

"We call management and ask them to do something and they don't answer," said Ms. Wimbish, an ACORN member.

"I guess they don't take us seriously. Even though other units are being renovated, why should we have to live like this?"

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