Petition aims to end housing group's plan Residents fear project to raze complexes will hurt black community

June 04, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

A petition circulating through the Clay Street community yesterday aims to end the Annapolis Housing Authority's HOPE VI project, a controversial plan to raze and replace the area's two public housing complexes.

The petition states that tenants of Obery Court, College Creek Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods believe the project "will destroy the entire black community and its history in Annapolis," and that "people will be left without housing."

About 100 signatures have been amassed and will be presented to city housing officials before June 29, the deadline for the agency to file a grant application for HOPE VI funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"This place needs to be renovated, no one's disputing that," said Robert H. Eades, an Obery Court resident who is one of six people circulating the petition. "There was a thriving community here once that was taken away from us with the same promise of better housing. It was called urban renewal.

"Now I see HOPE VI as a last stab at taking the Clay Street community from black folks as a whole," Eades said. "It's just the same game with a different name. Don't sell us no false dreams about living in a better community."

Tension has escalated in Clay Street over the past couple of weeks as neighbors argue over whether HOPE VI is the answer to problems with crime, poverty and dilapidated buildings. Annapolis and Anne Arundel County officials have started work on improvements with the Clay Street Revitalization Committee, but if an application is successful, a HOPE VI grant could pump $30 million into the area.

Building townhouses, the ambitious federal project would provide a mix of subsidized housing and privately owned homes. In addition to aesthetic improvements, the project would also include educational and job training opportunities to help residents become self-sufficient homeowners.

Higher taxes feared

Some residents say they believe that the promises are too good to be true and that housing officials are trying to force the idea on the community. The petition states that HOPE VI, described as a "modern day Urban Renewal" project, will raise property taxes and allow only 34 of 163 public housing tenants in the new homes once the project is completed.

A similar petition being passed around seeks the dismissal of Mark Beaver and Joyce Cuffie, the area's tenant council president and vice president. Supporters of HOPE VI, they are accused of misrepresenting tenant concerns and enforcing their own agenda.

Housing officials hope to allay these fears and answer such questions at a meeting tonight in the Obery Court Recreational Center.

"We are taking this petition seriously," said Robert Minatee, project coordinator for the authority. "We hope to answer a lot of those concerns at the meeting, some of which are misconceptions. No exact numbers have been finalized on how much housing there will be yet.

"But the authority is working actively with the Clay Street improvement association to make inroads with the community at large," Minatee said. "We want to revitalize Clay Street as a whole so one of our main concerns is that this project is supported."

Only funding source

Obery Court resident Dora Brown said she doesn't care if the questions are answered, she just doesn't trust the offer.

"I'm scared and fearing for my family," said Brown, 43. "I want a new home, but I can't be put out of where I am now with nowhere to go. I have kids. I can't take that risk. I don't see why we can't fix our neighborhood up without HOPE VI."

Housing officials say HOPE VI is the only major source of funding available.

Some residents say the petition is intended to incite fear in an already suspicious community.

"I did not sign it," said Cuffie jokingly. She has lived in College Creek Terrace for more than 20 years and was recently elected a tenant council member. "I love Annapolis. I love where I live. But drugs and crime started coming in and ruining life for people around here. I'd love to move back into a brand new community.

"I think these people are trying to ruin a good opportunity for the rest of this community," Cuffie, 51, said. "I am mentally tired and frustrated from all this controversy, but we will overcome."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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