Apartment residents resist relocation County revises plans for Tidewater Village

August 11, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

As a teen-ager, Lucille Collins dreamed of living in a glass house perched atop a wind-swept hill.

Years later, in the incongruous setting of Tidewater Village, a fading apartment complex in eastern Baltimore County, she keeps a piece of that dream -- glass-covered walls, crystal chandeliers and cabinet knobs, glass tables and gleaming aluminum blinds.

And she is attempting to prevent Baltimore County and federal officials from shattering it.

During a stormy meeting last week, housing officials and the property manager formally announced -- with no warning -- that they would demolish 432 vacant or rundown townhouse apartments and force hundreds of residents, including many single parents, to relocate.

But that was before Collins and 200 other residents fought back, forcing embarrassed planners to abandon their original blueprint for Tidewater.

The plan was a small part of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's ambitious revitalization effort to lower density and reduce crime on the county's east side -- a strategy applauded by residents, especially near the dilapidated and crime-ridden Riverdale Village and Chesapeake Village apartment complexes in Middle River.

The mortgages for Riverdale and Chesapeake are in default and the federal government is proceeding with foreclosure and eventual demolition of the units to make way for single-family houses.

At Tidewater Village, residents were told they could stay -- if they paid increased rent after the extensive rehabilitation of 550 other units. More than 50 apartments are to be converted to three-bedroom units, with the rent rising from the current $300 to $425 a month to $600 or more.

"It was very hurtful," said Dorothy Mullinix, a community leader. "The majority of people in Tidewater are employed, some in two jobs, and this is what we can afford. If they moved us out or raised the rent, they would take away our ability to live comfortably and avoid welfare."

'Coldhearted'

Henry Mack, a longtime Tidewater resident, said the company that manages the property was insensitive to the residents by excluding them from the planning process that could have altered their lives dramatically.

"There was no compassion," said Mack, a tow truck operator. "There was one newspaper story about changes, but nobody knew people would be thrown out. It was a coldhearted thing they did. These rich people just care about more profit, and all they want to do is control you."

Francis X. Knott, chief executive of Partners Management Inc. of Towson, which manages the complex, said his concern is "to balance the sensitivity we show to our tenants with my financial responsibility to our investors. There were times when I had 340 vacancies at Tidewater.

"One point emerged strongest from our meeting with the residents," he said. "I was absolutely astounded at the stigma the term Section 8 [the federal rent-subsidy program] has with them. They are self-payers and they are proud of it.

"That meeting sent us back to the drawing board," Knott said.

Residents have been assured they will have more involvement in planning, and that more options will be presented at next month's meeting of Tidewater residents, Knott, and county and federal officials.

Since last week's session, county officials have been conferring with Partners Management and representatives of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which holds the mortgage on the property.

Pride and passion

P. David Fields, director of the county Office of Community Conservation, said he was impressed by the residents' passion.

"We must reformulate the program so that it has much greater respect and concern for the community's needs," he said. "We have to be as good as they are, as focused."

Fields said that he and other officials at the meeting were impressed "with the tremendous degree of pride of the people, their sense of where home is."

Collins, a nurse technician who has lived for 16 years in Tidewater Village, has invested thousands of dollars in her rented townhouse.

"People tell me I have the best-kept home in Tidewater," Collins said. "When they say that, I get so proud I don't know what to do."

Most Tidewater tenants are employed, some working two or three jobs, and have resisted going on public assistance, officials and residents said. Only 3 percent receive the federal rent subsidies, according to officials.

"The last thing we should be doing is raising rent so people can't afford it and become dependent on government programs," Fields said.

Ina Singer, director of multifamily housing for the Baltimore-area HUD office, said other financing mechanisms -- including options for residents to buy their apartment townhouses -- are being explored and will be presented to them next month.

"We have to look at what other tools we can bring to the table," Singer said. "There could be grants, lower cost financing, options to purchase the units. We have to move forward in a partnership with the residents because everyone was extremely impressed with their sense of community."

Lisa Jeffries, 27, who has two children, said she has lived at Tidewater five years "because I could afford it and it was safer than Baltimore City. Where I lived in the city, a bullet came through our window while I was holding my baby. Here, you have drug dealing but you don't hear gunshots at night.

"If a mother is rich or poor, she still wants to raise her children in the best way possible," Jeffries said.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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