Lexington Terrace is next for demolition $22.7 million secured in federal aid for housing overhaul

September 26, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimore won a $22.7 million federal grant yesterday to tear down and transform Lexington Terrace, a decrepit high-rise housing project that looms over the western edge of downtown.

After two years of extensive planning and lobbying by tenants, community leaders and city officials, Baltimore prevailed in obtaining the critical federal support for a proposed $86 million overhaul of Lexington Terrace, one of its worst public housing developments.

A worn, half-vacant complex of five towers and 23 low-rise buildings less than a mile from the Inner Harbor, Lexington Terrace has long been beset by crime, drugs and deteriorating conditions. It will be demolished in March, seven months after the city blew up Lafayette Courts on the east side to make way for better housing for the poor.

A beaming Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told an emotional crowd at Lexington Terrace yesterday afternoon that the city wants to "tear down a project and build up a commun-ity."

"I feel so happy today, it's like Christmas in September," Mr. Schmoke said as residents cheered, and some fought back tears. "What all this means is these old buildings come down, and what comes up in its place are nice homes. It will be a nice neighborhood where people will be able to speak with pride: 'I'm from Lexington Terrace, why don't you come visit me?' "

Baltimore was one of four cities in the nation to secure federal aid for a public-private partnership aimed at revitalizing aging public housing, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume announced. Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh also won grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under a program designed to create communities with a mix of subsidized and for-sale housing and other business, educational and recreational amenities.

Over the next couple of years, the Baltimore Housing Authority will work in partnership with a development team headed by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to replace the 677 residences at Lexington Terrace with about 400 new ones, a 60 percent reduction in density.

Plans call for developing a mid-rise building with 99 apartments for seniors and 303 traditional rowhouses, 203 of which will be reserved for public housing. The other 100 will be sold to low- and moderate-income families.

To shore up the neighborhood, Struever Bros. also will work with the Council for Economic and Business Opportunity, the University of Maryland Medical System, the Enterprise Social Investment Corp, Bon Secours Hospital, NationsBank and others create an array of health programs and job-training initiatives.

Those groups will contribute about $10 million toward the project, which is expected to cost at least $44 million for construction and another $40 million in off-site relocation and community development. The bulk will be financed by the city, federal and state governments.

Among the ambitious plans are a computer literacy effort to bring residents of Lexington Terrace on-line and a three-story business center that would house job training programs, a convenience store and a community health clinic. There will also be an expanded recreation center and a child-care center next to Lexington Elementary/Middle School.

The project is scheduled to be completed in early 1998, the second stage in a $294 million reconstruction of the city's four outdated and dangerous high-rise developments. Lafayette Courts, an 807-unit complex that was leveled Aug. 19, is the first to be redeveloped as a community of rowhouses, a health clinic and a day-care center.

Yesterday afternoon was a time of celebration at Lexington Terrace, which opened with high hopes in 1959, but like so many high-rise developments across the nation has sagged into disrepair. Two of the five high-rise buildings have been closed and boarded for the past two years since angry tenants went on a rent strike to protest the miserable conditions.

The 371 families still living at Lexington Terrace will be relocated to other public housing developments or in rental homes at the beginning of the new year.

In early 1993, Mayor Mr. Schmoke trudged through Lexington Terrace and listened a litany of complaints from residents.

One-quarter of the apartments at Lexington Terrace were vacant at the time. The overwhelming majority of the tenants were women with young children living on an average income of less than $6,000 a year.

Lorraine Ledbetter, a tenant leader who has lived at Lexington Terrace for 16 years, burst into tears yesterday as she recalled the long struggle. She remembered going to one meeting, and deciding not to sit back and take it anymore.

"I spoke up, and I've been talking ever since," Ms. Ledbetter said, dabbing away her tears.

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