Potential loss of services provokes anger at Terraces

City working to continue programs paid by grants

October 09, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Four years after its celebrated opening, the Terraces housing development on Baltimore's west side is running out of money for a variety of services from day care to job training, angering residents who feel shortchanged.

Officials at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City have informed residents of the $65 million complex that grant money provided through the federally funded HOPE VI program will end Dec. 31.

The list of threatened services includes free Internet access, once an acclaimed feature of the complex - which is formally named Townes at the Terraces and replaced the dilapidated and crime-ridden Lexington Terrace high-rise complex. Barring a last-minute solution, the day care center, which is funded by a separate grant that is also in jeopardy, could close even sooner.

"The reality is that the grant [for the services] is over with and we're in the closeout process," said Christopher Shea, an associate deputy director of the housing agency. "When the money is gone, the money is gone."

Other city projects funded through HOPE VI could also face similar financial problems.

Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington/Poe Tenant Council, which includes residents of the adjacent Poe Homes, says she wants to know where the money went.

Ledbetter says city officials told her they have been trying to find a solution since the spring. But she and other residents say they are angry because promises haven't been kept and because city officials waited until the last minute to inform them of the impending cutoff.

"They said they've been working on it since April. But why did they wait until August to tell us?" Ledbetter said.

The council president is urging all the complex's residents to act now - not only to fight the end of services, but also to force city officials to follow through on other commitments they made to the complex, such as a new school and a community center.

"If you let it go till Dec. 31, you can forget it. They're going to come up with some excuse," Ledbetter said.

`Unhappiness, stress'

The approaching deadline has renewed sharp divisions within the complex, with renters and homeowners trading accusations. There are 203 rental units and 100 owner-occupied homes, a change from the old public housing that was composed of only rental units for low-income families.

"Without the renters, you wouldn't be here," Ledbetter told one of the homeowners during a meeting punctuated by shouting this week.

Homeowner Terry R. Chapman wrote in a recent letter to managers of the complex that because of the unfilled promises and other problems, many homeowners are considering leaving this urban mixed-income experiment.

"Unhappiness and stress has left many members wanting to move and wanting to be inconvenienced no longer," wrote Chapman, who serves on the legal committee of the Terraces Homeowners Association.

Chapman got a taste of "unhappiness and stress" when he was the sole homeowner to speak up at the tenants council meeting Monday.

"Why the hell do you think the renters have no rights?" said Ledbetter, when Chapman said he understood that the ultimate goal was for all residents of the Terraces to become homeowners.

"I haven't heard one homeowner who says we shouldn't be working together," Chapman responded.

"We're not going to sit around and let them [homeowners] take over the development when we were here first," Ledbetter said.

Future of HOPE VI

The turmoil comes amid doubt over the future of the federal HOPE VI public housing rebuilding program created in 1992. The Bush administration has proposed ending funding, at least temporarily, while congressional committees have proposed varying amounts that would continue the program for another year.

The issue is expected to be resolved in the next month. Regardless of the outcome of the congressional debate, grant funding at the Terraces will end Dec. 31, city officials say. The original grant had a five-year commitment, which began before residents moved into the complex in 1999. Other HOPE VI projects in the city also ultimately face an end to federal funding.

Programs, services

Shea, the Baltimore housing official, said it was "unfortunate" that the issue of continued funding for services such as Internet access was not considered sooner. He said his staff is discussing with residents whether other funding can be found for free Internet access and for a so-called e-village within the Terraces.

Samuel Little, also an associate deputy director for the housing agency, said the day care center that serves the Terraces predates the new complex. The problem, he said, is that enrollment, now at seven or eight, is too low for the center to be self-sufficient.

He said he met with residents recently and agreed to extend the center's closing date by 60 days to see if they can enroll more children and make the facility self-supporting.

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