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National Housing Crisis Becomes Focus Of Protest

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Note: Douglass Homes in Baltimore is one example of many of a housing crisis in the United States and a crisis in public housing. People are fighting back over this issue with protests being organized nationally this week by Our Homes-Our Voices. Margaret Flowers and I covered this issue on our radio show with an episode entitled “Housing is a Human Right.” This Friday we will be participating in a Picket for Power Protest at Douglass Homes in Baltimore from 11:30 to 1:30. KZ

Douglass Homes Residents Mobilize to Demand Tenants Council Election, Improved Conditions

Turning out in force despite the sweltering July heat in East Baltimore, residents of Douglass Homes public housing gathered at the Orleans Branch Library to speak out against foul play and deteriorating conditions. “We are demanding an election,” said Baltimore City Resident Advisory Board (RAB) Delegate Rev. Annie Chambers. “This is the first action, where we’re deciding how we’re gonna push back.”

Rev. Chambers, second from left, reads from restrictive new regulations approved by the RAB.

Rev. Chambers of the Green Party, who was elected to the citywide advisory body for public housing on March 30, decried her opponent’s foul play in her own election, as well as the appointment by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City of the traditionally elected Douglass Homes Tenants Council President position, and the generally deteriorating conditions families are being subjected to.

Douglass Homes residents “haven’t gotten any tenant participation funds, we don’t have any playgrounds, or programs. We’ve missed out on so much by not having a duly elected Tenant Council,” she added as she convened the group of approximately 40 public housing residents and supporters in the Library’s meeting room.

Residents described increased neglect, the lack of screen doors, roach infestations, and slow maintenance response times including the case of a deceased resident’s unit sitting vacant for weeks. In addition to the decay of the housing stock itself, residents pointed to a noticeable shift in the Housing Authority’s treatment of residents.

“I come before you today to tell you there’s definitely a change in the Housing Authority,” described LeTrace “Tracey” _______ when it was her turn to stand and speak out. “They want to do whatever they can to bring Hopkins in. They set you up for failure so they can put you out. They don’t care about your kids, they don’t care about you, and they definitely don’t care about me,” she added, referring to Johns Hopkins Hospital’s serpentine swallowing of East Baltimore.

“My next move, if they don’t do anything, is to call the cameras. They have changed and they have not given us meetings about the changes,” added Diane Corbett, a resident of Douglass Homes and a laid off Baltimore Housing employee, detailing recent Housing Authority moves rubber stamped by most of the RAB to ban grilling, smoking, and kiddie pools, despite Rev. Chambers’ staunch opposition. “I can be one of their best tenants and they can evict me” due to poorly communicated new fees or a single late rent payment. “Housing Authority used to care about people, now they just want to collect rent.”

Several residents linked actions by the two Baltimore public housing agencies to policies being pushed by President Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, who toured Baltimore three weeks ago. “Ben Carson came in said he’s in favor of getting rid of public housing,” said Rev. Chambers. After meeting with Carson, the Baltimore Sun quoted Mayor Catherine Pugh describing a positive conversation with the Secretary related to the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, a public-private partnership initiated under the Obama Administration, and one of the few areas of HUD left unscathed by Trump’s draconian “skinny budget” proposal.

The trend toward more severe privatization was reinforced by Thomas Barnett of the Pleasant View Gardens Childcare Center, which serves infants, preschool, and school aged children of four East Baltimore public housing developments and surrounding areas, 80–90% of whom receive federal childcare vouchers. “In 2015, the Housing Authority decided the whole building wasn’t profitable. We heard a lot of things, all I know now is they’re tellin’ me to pay my rent to Living Classrooms,” said Barnett, who added that the non-profit had told him to vacate the premises by June 30th, a notice recently extended to July 30th after pushback.

He indicated he believes this is part of a larger effort to segregate market rate childcare and subsidized Head Start at Henderson-Hopkins Elementary/Middle School by replacing the existing Pleasant View Gardens Childcare Center with a Head Start that would serve a narrower age range with a more limited schedule and fewer wraparound services, all at a distance from the middle class preschoolers who would remain at Henderson Hopkins.

Finally, Glenn Ross, a long-time East Baltimore activist, detailed the cycle, dating back decades, to ghettoize, depopulate, and gentrify the area stretching from Oldtown Mall to McElderry Park. Rather than painting a solely bleak picture, Ross pointed to the McElderry Park Community Association, of which he is the President, as a model of the positive outcomes possible when communities secure and control their own resources. McElderry Park’s was one of only 15 nationwide to secure funding, over $970,000, through the now defunct federal Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, and has invested the money in workforce development, affordable housing, and public safety.

Ideas swirled for the proper course of action in response to the deluge of undemocratically-executed disinvestment. Brandon Walker, a Coppin State student and Ujima People’s Progress Party organizer, called on those with housing stability to show up for Douglass. A picket, a protest, negotiations with a lawyer present. Get some signs out on the streets. Finally, residents agreed to organize a local demonstration in front of the Housing Authority at 417 E. Fayette St on July 28th as part of the National Day of Action for Public Housing.

“Is that agreed with Douglass?” asked Rev. Chambers. “Yes? We gotta fight!… How many homeless families we got in this city? If we don’t fight for public housing, we’re in trouble!”

(A Baltimore Housing Authority spokeswoman declined to comment.)

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