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Baltimore Public Housing Residents Face Double Jeopardy

Dr. Ken Morgan | 5/2/2020, 10:23 p.m.
“You can tell whoever, the Resident Advisory Board (RAB) isn't worth a damn," said Reverend Annie Chambers, a long time ...
Baltimore Public Housing Residents Face Double Jeopardy Courtesy Photo

“You can tell whoever, the Resident Advisory Board (RAB) isn't worth a damn," said Reverend Annie Chambers, a long time advocate for tenants' rights who along with several others on the RAB, feels that Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) usurped the RAB's limited power.

In 1968, public housing residents met with Robert Embry, then Housing Commissioner to demand that tenants participate in the decision making of the HABC.

Paulette Carroll, a resident of Lexington Terrace and a member of RAB, aptly said to Housing Authority of Baltimore City RAB, "We don't work for you. You work for us."

These few tenant advocates now convene dutifully and regularly on the RAB. Still, they say that their issues continue to fall on HABC officialdom deaf ears. Mold, mildew, wall, ceilings in disrepair broken appliances and general maintenance complaints continue to surface.

"HABC has not been responsive," said Crystal Branch, one of the proactive tenant representatives.

Disallowing food on HABC property brought to needy, older and disabled tenants sparked the latest controversy the Baltimore Brew reported.

"Food is required to pass health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety and health protocols to be distributed on HABC property," HABC spokeswoman Ingrid Antonio.

"There's nothing in my lease that says you can't give your neighbor food," Chambers told The Brew. "I have distributed clothes. We help people with their rent. I help people with all kinds of problems here in Douglass Homes."

Amid the COVID-19 virus, public housing tenants do not fare well. Phillip McHarris, a housing advocate, working on his dissertation at Yale, said in a recent Essence article.

"Many residents are poor and working-class and may not be able to buy enough groceries and supplies to weather the outbreak without assistance," McHarris said. "Outbreaks in these buildings are likely to spread rapidly given high levels of density and the fact that high traffic areas are rarely maintained adequately.

“Poverty and building safety have long created a state of emergency, a result of negligence and mismanagement by city, state and the federal government."

Karen Walker, a tenant and coalition advocate said about the Bolton House with its mold and mildew, "This place is a killer."

Later, on a Black Agenda Report podcast, McHarris said, "Folks are already in a housing crisis. Public housing is overcrowded, neglected and disinvested." Activist RAB members agreed with his views.

Reverend Chambers, along with local organizer Brandon Walker continue to spearhead a growing local independent low-income housing coalition accountable only to its rank and file residents and their supporters.

Ken is a former Coordinator and Asst. Professor of the Urban Studies Program at Coppin State University. He can be reached at kmorgan2408@comcast.net.