For almost three years, neighbors have watched the rowhouses in the 400 block of N. Madeira St. in East Baltimore decay into dens of drug trafficking and attack-dog training.
From their windows, many see young men storming through the trash-cluttered houses, children playing among shattered beer bottles and wall fixtures, and dogs killing cats for sport.
Relief might be on the way. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City announced Wednesday that the houses could be razed within a few weeks.
Residents are refraining from celebrating until they see the buildings demolished.
"They've been saying that for two years," said Troy Randall, president of the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Patterson Park, a group working to improve the neighborhood. "I've been too deceived to get excited."
Housing Authority spokesman John Wesley said his department is waiting for written approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which pays for demolition, before crews are sent in to raze the houses.
About two weeks ago, HUD inspectors examined the 23 city-owned properties and verbally approved their demolition, Wesley said.
"Once the letter is received, we will knock them down," Wesley said. "All the properties are prepared for demolition."
Randall said his organization, made up of 50 homeowners living in the area bounded by Monument Street, Fayette Street, Milton Avenue and Washington Street, plans to apply to the city to adopt the vacant lots and build a children's playground and residential parking lot.
The coalition has been coordinating with local agencies, such as Parks and People, to arrange labor, materials and some funding for the project. Randall said it's getting difficult to continually delay the work.
"We just need for those houses to come down," Randall said.
The vacant houses have brought more violence and drug traffic to the community in the past few years, Randall said.
"It's like Leakin Park. You can go in there and no one will see you," he said. "Anything can happen back there."
Maj. James L. Hawkins, commander of the Police Department's Eastern District, said nuisance crimes such as vandalism are more common in areas with vacant housing. To combat such crimes, he said, the department has to rely on active community members to police the area.
"It's difficult to do that on streets with vacant lots," Hawkins said. "There's no residents."
Neighborhood residents have tried to improve their community, said Gren Whitman, president of Patterson Park Neighborhood Initiative, an umbrella organization working with 10 community groups around Patterson Park.
"They are a relatively small band of people trying to do more than they can," Whitman said.
Recently, the Concerned Citizens Coalition cleaned and boarded up 36 vacant properties with royal-blue boards. And when three families were found living in the houses illegally, Randall said, the coalition worked with aid agencies to relocate them.
But for all their work, the 400 block of N. Madeira St. has been a continuing problem.
Reginald Addison, who has lived in the 400 block of N. Patterson Park Ave. for 12 years, said the boards they put on the houses were kicked down was soon as they were put up.
In addition to providing the community with much-needed parking and a children's playground, Addison said, razing the houses would eliminate a place for drug dealers to hide.
"I think tearing down the houses would be great," Addison said. "It might keep the druggies away."
Pub Date: 3/16/99