The remaining residents of the Claremont Homes public housing development are running out of time.
They're already short of options.
The 50 or so households left in the low-rise complex near the southern edge of Herring Run Park on Baltimore's east side are being told they've got to move soon - no one's saying exactly when - to make way for a $100 million mixed-income community that includes Claremont and the adjacent demolished Freedom Village apartments.
In the past, residents in similar situations had the choice of being placed in other public housing complexes or being given a Section 8 housing voucher to be used in the private rental market - something that, given the state of the rental market, was an opportunity but no guarantee.
That was then.
The remaining residents of Claremont don't have that alternative. "There are no extra vouchers," says Christopher Shea, the city's associate deputy director of housing.
Just who's responsible for the state of affairs is unclear. Housing officials blame changes in the way the federal government allocates vouchers, which has resulted in a loss of about 2,000 rental certificates for the city. But a December federal audit report criticizes the city for failing to reform its Section 8 program fast enough to take advantage of available vouchers.
What is clear is that the result doesn't sit well with the residents, who say Claremont is a cut above the other complexes they're being directed to.
Opened as a complex for whites in the de jure era of segregated public housing, Claremont was about 75 percent African-American when it began emptying out a couple of years ago, residents say. Although vacant units outnumber occupied ones by 5 to 1 and residents complain about periodic gas outages, the complex is well-kept, with ample green space and rowhouse-style apartments set along winding roads.
It's a striking contrast with the brick and concrete complexes like Latrobe Homes, in the shadow of the prison complex, or Somerset Homes, on the edge of the blighted Middle East neighborhood. And it's nestled between the stable communities of Belair-Edison and Armistead Gardens.
"You can wake up in the morning and hear a bird instead of a gunshot," says longtime resident Angela Keene.
There may be an element of racial fear in some of the objections: One white resident acknowledges trepidation about moving to a development in an all-black neighborhood. But black residents say they, too, are fearful about drugs and crime they say is rampant in and around other complexes.
"I don't want to lose my son," says Karen Pailin, who has a 17-year-old.
What that says about conditions in the other complexes is a subject for another time.
For the record, city housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano defends the other public housing developments, saying, "pretty much all are in much better shape than Claremont." He describes the residents' plight as an "unfortunate but temporary situation" that will be remedied once the redevelopment by a team led by Penrose Properties is completed.
Some residents are on the waiting list for certificates to be used in the surrounding counties under the terms of a partial settlement of a public housing discrimination lawsuit. But some don't qualify for the more stringent credit requirement of the program, and others don't want to move much beyond the city line.
"We prefer to just stay here," says Tina Porter, who lives at Claremont with her teenage son, and cleans and repairs carpet at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Indeed, the Housing Authority originally told Claremont residents they could remain until construction at Freedom Village was completed, then move into one of the 200 mixed-income rental and homeownership units planned for that site as Claremont was torn down and replaced by 165 market-rate units. But officials say they had to break that pledge as Claremont deteriorated more than expected, in part because of delays connected with the aforementioned lawsuit.
"We can't honestly say we can maintain that site up to a decent standard," Shea said.
Barbara Samuels, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, calls the city's strategy of forgoing maintenance "de facto demolition."
"My concern right now is the fact that people are being forced to go into troubled inner-city housing developments," she says. "My long-term concern is the loss of housing opportunities in one of the more livable developments."
Tina Porter has long-term and immediate concerns, too.
"I'd like to come back and buy a home," she says. "But I need somewhere to live in the meantime."