Residents say they won't lose HOPE Urban renewal plan delayed at least a year

June 15, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

In less than an hour at a meeting last week, all hope of infusing millions of federal dollars into the ailing Clay Street neighborhoods of Annapolis evaporated -- at least for this year.

No matter that city Housing Authority officials backed off from a controversial proposal to raze two public housing complexes. Or that they promised residents more time to understand the HOPE VI project and its promise of new townhouses and new jobs. The trust needed for a major urban renewal initiative to move forward was lacking.

Still, not everyone in the Clay Street neighborhood is cheering that Annapolis housing officials have postponed action on the community renewal plan. Some residents, such as Mark Beavers, are shaking their heads in dismay and vowing to turn things around.

He is part of a small, less-vocal segment of the communities of Obery Court and College Creek Terrace that supported the changes that HOPE VI offered. They are residents tired of crime, drugs, dirty streets and the struggle to rise from poverty.

"I'd like to own a house someday," said Beavers, 45, a former drug addict who lives in College Creek Terrace with his 11-year-old daughter. "What if there is no HOPE VI next year? What if we missed our chance this year? If I don't have a plan six years from now for my little girl, where will she go?

"I'm looking for better," said Beavers, president of the area tenant council. "I want my little girl to be the ugly duckling in public housing who becomes that swan. Don't stop my dreams because you can't believe. Maybe these people aren't dreaming."

As proposed, the multimillion-dollar project would have torn down 163 units in Obery Court and College Creek Terrace to build about 200 subsidized and privately owned townhouses.

Housing officials said the program also would offer educational and business training and could bring new businesses into the area. The project, they said, could pump $30 million into the neighborhood.

Beavers is under attack for having supported HOPE VI. Some neighbors say he tried to sell them out for the sake of a new HOPE VI home. They are calling for his dismissal from the tenant council. Those accusations are about as true, Beavers said, as other rumors skeptics spread about the project.

Rumors such as the one that Hope VI would renovate public housing, but only so that wealthy white families would move in.

Or that the Housing Authority and developers are trying to swindle residents out of potentially lucrative waterfront property bordering the wealthier historic district, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and government offices.

Critics have portrayed HOPE VI as a new version of the urban renewal that in the 1960s and '70s destroyed black communities around the country.

Back then, Clay Street residents believed urban renewal would bring them better housing and create a stronger community. It did the opposite. And residents vowed not to be duped again.

So much fear permeated the community that many residents refused to investigate how HOPE VI has worked in a neighboring BTC city. Baltimore has received more than $100 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money to renovate housing projects.

The likelihood of HOPE VI moving forward next year is bleak if housing officials cannot make the community trust them. HUD guidelines require community support for HOPE VI grants.

Plans are under way to meet with residents individually throughout the summer to talk about what they want from the project -- jobs, homes or high school equivalency diplomas, all of which HOPE VI offers.

HOPE supporters are optimistic about their prospects.

"These people are blinded by the past," said Mark Thomas, 43, a Glen Burnie resident born and raised in Annapolis who is now the Obery Court Recreation Center coordinator.

Thomas pointed to barren lawns, walls repainted several times to cover graffiti and further up Clay Street, boys hanging out on a corner. Every day, Thomas walks outside to pick up trash and recruits children to help.

"People don't venture through here," Thomas said. "Even with the construction of a traffic circle on West Street, people would rather sit through traffic than cut through here. It's frustrating. There are good kids here. They deserve better."

Members of the Clay Street Revitalization Committee believe that, too. They've been working with the Housing Authority, police and city and county officials for years to find money to attract businesses to the area, create neighborhood watches and rebuild playgrounds. All of which HOPE VI backers said it could help provide.

Chairwoman Bertina Nick, who lives on Clay Street, has attended too many community and government meetings to give up.

"I am not disappointed [about the postponement]," she said, "because we'll be here by this time next year. We have to believe that. I think when people finally listen and really look at this program, they're going to see it's a great opportunity.

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