Public housing tenants win contracts

January 14, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

With the stroke of a pen yesterday, Loretta Johnson went from a public housing tenant on welfare to Baltimore's newest chief executive officer.

A mother of eight and grandmother of 29, Ms. Johnson's dream '' of owning a business came true as she signed a six-month, $14,612 contract with the city housing authority to clean a senior citizen public housing high-rise.

"I planted my feet on the ground and pulled up," she said of her efforts to form L. J. Reynolds Janitorial Service. "I have been planning for it for a long time. . . . It's going to be a neat change. Everybody is looking my way."

Ms. Johnson, 51, joins two other public housing residents -- Juanita Campbell and Wanda Richardson -- as new businesswomen with housing authority janitorial contracts worth a combined $76,000.

They hope to hire other public housing residents, offering a network of part-time work for $5 per hour.

"I have a living room full of applications from my neighbors -- 352 as of last night," said Ms. Johnson. "I've been living in Cherry Hill for 38 years, and we have a stigma of being people who don't work. I've found that not to be so. If I can hire four now, I tell the

others, 'Don't give up on me; I won't give up on you.' "

Ms. Campbell and Ms. Richardson also signed six-month contracts yesterday with the housing authority for twice-a-week cleaning services in two other senior citizen public housing buildings.

The three enterprising women said they formed their companies with a goal of self-sufficiency. They received assistance from a federal entrepreneurs training program that is administered by the local nonprofit Council for Economic and Business Opportunity.

During a 12-week course last year, they learned accounting principals, the basics of management and marketing, and daily operational skills. Each woman also received a loan of about $5,000 from the Baltimore Self-Employment Loan Fund for liability insurance and janitorial and office equipment.

That money will be crucial, said Ms. Campbell, whose company, Campbell Contract Janitorial Service, will work at Lakeview Towers.

"Right now, I can't even afford a phone," she said. "I have nothing but my apartment unit. I am starting from less than scratch."

Ms. Campbell, 41, has lived in public housing her entire life and pays $373 per month for the four-bedroom unit she shares with her sister and nephew in the Rosemont development. She also is trying to start a painting business, and her goal is owning a home.

"I hope to be a role model and a demonstration that we can, despite our circumstances, grow beyond what we are," she said.

Ms. Richardson, 33, started R & R Cleaning Service, which will work at McCulloh Homes.

Eric Brown, deputy director of the housing authority, pledged the agency's full support of the fledgling businesses. "We will do everything we can to make sure their transitions from regular people to business people is successful."

Local public housing residents also have started clothing design, grocery, day-care and wholesale beauty supply businesses under the federal entrepreneurs training program. Similar programs exist in Tampa, Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes of the 6th District presented Ms. Johnson and the two other women with a council resolution lauding their efforts. He then told the women to develop their companies cautiously. "You are a breath of fresh air for moving things along in the housing community," he said. "You are pioneers."

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