Tenants of low-income complex living in limbo despite reprieve

New owner extends today's departure deadline at east-side apartments

December 31, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Kenneth Joyner was home for Christmas. He'll be there for New Year's, too. But after that, there's no telling.

Like everyone else at his 173-unit, low-income housing complex in East Baltimore, Joyner was told months ago that he would have to move out to make way for market-rate housing. Most residents were supposed to be out by today, and about 100 families have left.

The rest, who like Joyner have not found housing elsewhere or else think they have the right to stay, still live at Chapel NDP Apartments.

Those tenants recently won a reprieve with the help of city housing officials, so they do not have to move during the holiday season. But their future remains uncertain.

"I'm going to fight it until the end, and I know the end ain't going to be too long coming," said Joyner, 56, a disabled Vietnam veteran who has lived at the complex for three years.

In December last year, a new Baltimore corporation, Capital Development LLC, bought the 25-year-old low-rise complex for $4.5 million.

Most Chapel units are subsidized through the Section 8 rental program, but the new owners saw potential for market-rate housing given the complex's location in an improving neighborhood just southeast of the Johns Hopkins medical complex and bordering Washington Hill and Butchers Hill.

At the time, they said they hoped to attract students, doctors and young professionals to a rehabilitated complex.

Since then, the owners have talked about several options for the property, including rehabilitating it, tearing it down and building new housing, and building something such as a parking garage, say city officials and Legal Aid representatives who have been working with tenants.

Officials with Capital Development could not be reached for comment.

One thing has not changed: The owners still want the current tenants out.

Capital Development, at the request of Reggie Scriber, director of the ombudsman's office at the city's housing department, recently agreed not to hold tenants to the Dec. 31 deadline.

"I just thought it was just a little too rigid to deal with people around the Christmas and New Year's holiday," Scriber said.

The owners gave residents a new deadline, saying each apartment would be handled case by case, Scriber said.

"I'll just leave it in the hands of the Lord, 'cause getting upset won't do no good," said Geraldine Pinkney, 67, who lives in an unsubsidized $589-a-month apartment that doubles as a day care facility.

Finding new homes for tenants has been especially difficult because no relocation money has been offered, tenants say.

Because the complex is privately owned, Scriber said, the owner is not required to provide assistance. But officials with Legal Aid contend that such help is legally required.

"We have spoken to the owner and tried to impress upon them that their actions are not permissible under the law," said Gregory Countess, a Legal Aid attorney. "We believe they don't have a right at the present time to insist that people leave or to terminate the leases."

Scriber said the owners offered to provide an office at the complex for housing department staff members who could help residents find new apartments. He said he has been reluctant to send workers there because Legal Aid officials have been advising tenants that they do not have to move.

"There's no need to send my workers down there if somebody's telling them they don't have to move," Scriber said.

Residents can get help by calling the housing department, which has taken tenants to see other apartments and will provide moving trucks without charge, Scriber said.

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