Baltimore's Housing Authority began extensive repairs yesterday to a West Baltimore rowhouse -- owned by the authority -- where a family of 10 has lived with boarded-up front windows since late November.
After a four-hour inspection, housing officials blamed "tenant abuse" for the $8,000 in damage requiring repairs at 1304 W. Lombard St.
And police removed needles, syringes and other drug paraphernalia from the house's basement.
Sheila Williams and her family, who lease the four-bedroom rowhouse for $98 a month, will be moved this week to another public housing unit while repairs are made, said authority spokesman Zack Germroth.
The family is expected to return to the rowhouse, but Mr. Germroth said the authority's social workers will "monitor the property in the future."
About 15 Housing Authority employees appeared at the rowhouse yesterday morning after a Sun article about the family's unsuccessful attempts to have five large front windows replaced.
The windows were smashed Nov. 24 by Ms. Williams' brother, Reginald Dorsey, who said yesterday that he broke the windows with bricks while high on drugs.
Asked why he committed the vandalism, he said, "My mind was a little crazy. I was a little down and messed up on drugs."
The three-story house, darkened by the plywood that has been nailed over the front windows on the first and second floors, was dirty and filled with broken furniture.
On each floor, graffiti was scattered on walls that had holes in them, and part of the living room ceiling had collapsed.
After inspecting the house, inspector Thomas Anderson said it needs extensive repairs, including plastering of walls and ceilings, window replacement and new floors.
He blamed the conditions on the inability of the family, which has lived there for 13 years, to keep the house clean and in good shape.
Ms. Williams and daughter Ronnell Ashby disagreed.
They said the Housing Authority has not responded to their repeated requests for maintenance.
The authority acknowledged that it received the family's request for window repairs in early December but did not schedule the work until this week.
"If they came when you called, it wouldn't be like this," said Ms. Williams, 42. "We are not filthy people. We are in a war here."
The Housing Authority bought the house from the city in 1980 and renovated it for $48,000 before leasing it to Ms. Williams, Mr. Germroth said.
Clayton Tucker, a housing supervisor, said the authority will meet with Ms. Williams to review her lease and discuss "housekeeping problems." Yesterday, eight children roamed through the house, although only five are named on the lease, he said.
The housing inspection also triggered a series of visits to the Williams family from city and state family-services workers.
Social workers from the state Department of Social Services arrived to hold a family meeting and to check on the condition of the small children at the house. The social worker, Michelle Kirkland, refused to comment on the meeting.
Housing Authority family counselors also were summoned to teach the Williams family certain housekeeping and child-care skills.
A short time later, police removed the drug paraphernalia from the basement and sent them to the crime laboratory.
"The tenants have to maintain a high level of cleanliness. We will be looking at how things got this way. We need everyone to do some soul-searching to determine how things got this bad," said Reginald Scriber, a trouble-shooter for the Housing Authority who also toured the house.