Neighbors unite against housing project Frankford residents fear return of crime if developer prevails

August 02, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Nobody can tell the sorry history of Strathdale Manor Apartments better than the people who live next door in the Frankford community of Northeast Baltimore.

For nearly 20 years, they had seen rent court battles, drug deals, vandalism, shootings and abandonment.

Now they're worried that a plan to resurrect the mostly vacant apartment complex in the 6100 block of Frankford Ave. will only bring back their neighborhood nightmare. The Frankford Improvement Association is fighting developer Otis Warren's efforts to renovate 535 apartments subsidized by the city and state.

Despite assertions by Warren and the city housing commissioner that the apartments will be rented to moderate-income tenants, community leaders believe the homes will go to low-income families. They fear a return of the kind of crime and deterioration they saw for two decades.

But they may be too late to fight the project.

Four months ago, without the community's knowledge, the city Board of Estimates approved the first $500,000 of a $5.3 million city loan for Warren's project.

Community leaders say they learned of Warren's final development plans last month after a manager of Strathdale Manor left notices at neighbors' homes that mentioned the pending renovations.

Last week about 200 angry residents confronted Warren and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, asking why they were not informed of the final plans before the Board of Estimates approved them.

"I'm upset the city allocated money for this without any backing from the community. They just came and shoved this project down our throats," said Raymond Lowder, president of the Frankford Improvement Association.

Residents also accused the two men of re-creating a concentration of low-income housing like the Lexington Terrace project that was demolished Saturday.

"I thought we were blowing up buildings like this," said city Councilwoman Lois Garey, who supports the community in its opposition to the development.

Barbara Samuels, fair housing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the project is another example of the city segregating poor black families.

Noting that the majority of homeowners surrounding Strathdale Manor are African-American, she said, "They would never be doing this project if it was in a white neighborhood. The government does not develop 600-subsidized-unit housing projects in white neighborhoods. It only does it in black neighborhoods."

Fewer units planned

But Warren and Henson say the $21 million project is the best hope for the deteriorated property. They say it will be redesigned with air conditioning and fewer apartments -- 535 instead of 670.

They also say it will not house low-income people.

"It's not proposed to be a low-income housing project. We're not proposing Section 8 and we're not proposing public housing," Henson said, referring to two federal subsidy programs for poor renters.

"It will be the same type of housing that is in the community, moderate-priced housing," said Warren, adding that the approved plan is the same one he showed the community more than a year ago.

But Frankford homeowners are skeptical.

The community association's officers said Warren told them in June 1995 that he would create a community for moderate-income tenants who might work at Morgan State University or Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Now the association points to Board of Estimates minutes from March that show the apartments will be offered to families making "at, or below 50 percent of the area median income."

Jim Kelly, an economist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that translates into an income of $26,200 for an average family, an amount that HUD considers to be "low income."

Low-income residents

State officials also said that because of $2 million in federal tax credits offered to investors in the project, the apartments must be rented to low-income people.

Warren told the Board of Estimates he would charge "60 percent of the market" or "around $350" a month, according to the minutes. In a recent interview he said he doesn't recall mentioning the $350 figure. Instead, he said, rents will range from $449 to $583 a month, depending on the size of the apartment.

Warren also told the Board of Estimates, "We're going to renovate the entire community, and the community by the way is very excited about this," the minutes state.

But the kind of excitement created by his final plan is not what he intended.

Community leaders say they would prefer that townhouses be built on the site for sale rather than have low-income tenants in the complex, built in 1963.

Since last week's meeting, Henson and Warren have agreed to meet with a small committee of community representatives to iron out their differences.

Henson said he would "sit down and look at changes to the project to bring it in line with what the community wanted."

'Middle-class angst'

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