Residents take protest to landlord's front door

Owner says violations have been addressed

July 02, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

About 50 residents of rundown neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore chartered a bus to the quarter-million-dollar Owings Mills home of city landlord Allen B. Becker last night to demand improvements to dozens of derelict properties blighting their community.

At times, the exchanges between Becker and members of the Association of Community Organizations Now turned hostile.

"We are demanding a meeting with him about cleaning up vacant properties and paying restitution for screwing up [our] neighborhood," said Mitchell Klein, chief mobilizer for ACORN, which organized the protest as a first step in a summer-long "tour of shame" campaign to force negligent property owners into accountability.

Said Klein: "[Becker] really takes advantage of poor folks."

Property records show that Becker, 72, of the first block of Cliffside Court owns at least 50 properties, most in West and Northwest Baltimore. City housing records show that Becker has housing violations on 19 of his properties, including many in Lower Park Heights.

The violations include citations for interior and exterior conditions and some for vacant properties.

More than 75 percent of his houses are valued below $30,000, according to 1998 city tax records.

"I don't think it matters if I have two [rental properties] or 200," said Becker, who since 1995 has unloaded about 50 of his properties. "If you take a look at my record and check violation notices, I have taken care of them."

Before Becker arrived home about 6: 30 p.m., his neighbors went about mowing their lawns as protesters chanted: "Housing for the needy, not for the greedy!"

The confrontation began moments later when Becker pulled into his driveway in a white Cadillac and was greeted by the angry pickets, more than a dozen standing on his front porch. After attempting to go into his garage, where he was followed by protesters, Becker came out and tried to talk to them.

Met with shouts calling for a sit-down meeting, he responded: "You can give me a call anytime in my office."

The crowd, claiming that Becker was virtually impossible to pin down, demanded he set a date right away. Becker, apparently unruffled by the confrontation, simply repeated that a meeting would have to be scheduled by phone.

After about 20 minutes of refusing to be pinned down to a meeting date with ACORN, Becker turned to go inside as Baltimore County police arrived. ACORN members then boarded their bus for Northwest Baltimore.

Housing officials believe that Becker could own dozens of additional properties under different corporations he heads. He denied the claim last night.

In March, a city district judge ordered Becker to raze a property operating as a corner grocery at Springhill and Towanda avenues in Park Heights because police believed it was used for drug trafficking. The case is under appeal.

On May 25, 1995, a city circuit judge awarded a 2-year-old boy $325,000 after he suffered permanent brain damage from ingesting lead paint chips flaking from the walls of a house owned by Becker.

For Margaret Thomas, a Becker tenant in the 1800 block of N. Pulaski St., ACORN's actions can not come soon enough. February, she said, her furnace broke and she found it impossible to reach Becker. Repeated calls, she said, were never returned.

In April -- on the day before Thomas was to appear in court to file charges against Becker -- her furnace was replaced.

Becker told reporters last night: "I'm not one of those landlords you think I am."

Sun staff writer Amy Oakes contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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