A winter of misery in a house of broken windows

April 12, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

Since last fall, a West Baltimore family has lived in a partly boarded-up rowhouse, waiting to have five large front windows repaired by their landlord -- the city Housing Authority.

Through the winter's record-setting freezes and ice storms, the Williams family at 1304 W. Lombard St. huddled under coats and quilts as its repeated requests for new window panes went unanswered.

"It was freezing," Sheila Williams, 42, who rents the four-bedroom house for $98 per month, said yesterday.

"We had plastic up," said the mother of eight and grandmother of four. "We had quilts, clothes and coats, and we were still cold. The three babies are still sick from this winter."

The windows were broken the day before Thanksgiving by an angry relative, said Ms. Williams, who has lived in the house for about 13 years.

The windows now are covered with plywood, leaving the front rooms in semi-darkness.

The city Housing Authority acknowledges that a work order to repair the windows was filed Dec. 2. Ms. Williams said that she and her daughter Ronnell Ashby have filed three more requests for window repairs, but Ms. Ashby said housing officials explained it could take up to one year for the glass to be ordered and installed.

Clayton Tucker, a Housing Authority supervisor, said yesterday he was unaware that the family was living without glass in the front windows on the first and second floors of their home and in the front windows of the basement.

He said the condition of the windows posed an emergency, but blamed the situation on staff shortages that have left the authority with one window glazier for more than 2,000 row houses. He promised that the authority would repair the windows today.

"There are a lot of windows broken and [the glazier] is the only one to do it," Mr. Tucker said. "I'm not making excuses but this is why he is behind."

Yesterday, four children and Ms. Williams' daughter Michael Loney slept in a second-floor bedroom that was drafty from the unsealed windows. In a rear second-floor bedroom, two toddlers sat near a broken window that was left uncovered, exposing pieces of jagged glass.

Sue Fitzsimmons, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, could not comment on whether the family, which receives welfare, sought assistance during the winter because of the poor living conditions in the row house.

Generally, she said, the department would try to negotiate with the landlord for the family or to move the children temporarily until repairs are made.

Ms. Williams said she has patiently waited for the windows to be repaired. And, she said, she has filed requests for other major repairs.

The house has collapsed ceilings, fallen kitchen cabinets, cracked and broken plaster and two large holes in second-floor walls. Also, she said, poor insulation has forced her family to supplement the heat -- much of which was sucked out through the boarded up windows -- with the gas oven throughout the winter.

Tim Glen, a maintenance official for the Housing Authority, said yesterday that those work orders are on file awaiting action.

There are no housing code violations on record for Ms. Williams' home, said Housing Authority spokesman Zack Germroth. But the house has not been inspected recently, he added.

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