As Jean Thomas helped her husband load furniture and boxes into a U-Haul truck parked outside their West Baltimore home Tuesday afternoon, she worried that she'd run out of time.
She had lost a fight to stay in the rent-subsidized rowhouse on North Fremont Avenue where she and her husband, Sherman, had lived for seven years, recently with their daughter and four young grandchildren.
Sheriff's deputies could arrive any minute to lock them out. The eviction deadline was Tuesday.
Thomas' mind was on logistics: moving living room couches, a washer and dryer, and a bedroom suite, returning the truck, and then temporarily settling her daughter and grandchildren at a niece's house. She hadn't yet figured out where she and her husband would go.
"It hurts," Thomas said of the eviction, holding a copy of the year-long lease she signed in March with the private complex's property manger, Edgewood Management Corp.
Thomas said she would miss her neighbors the most.
"They've been really helpful," she said.
Thomas said she and the six other family members whose names are on the lease have been unfairly penalized for the criminal actions, mostly drug-related, of her two adult sons. Thomas denied that either son had lived at the house or dealt drugs there, and emphasized that she had never missed a rent payment.
But, she said, Edgewood told her that she had breached the lease because her sons, Sherman Thomas Jr. and Girard Newton, had listed her address as their own at various times on records for arrests that resulted in convictions.
Under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, the sons' actions were grounds for the family's eviction, said Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Housing Authority. The authority administers the HUD rent subsidy at the privately owned Townes at the Terraces, where the Thomases have been living.
Porter said tenants can be evicted from HUD-subsidized units if an unauthorized adult lives in the home or if someone who commits a crime lists the house as his or her address. "If you've committed a crime, there is zero tolerance," Porter said.
HUD regulations allow tenants to be evicted from or prevented from entering public housing programs because of drug-related criminal activity, but housing authorities do have the flexibility to keep a household in the program in certain cases.
"Under HUD's public housing program, the housing authority has the authority to evict, but it is not a HUD requirement," said Donna White, an agency spokeswoman, on Tuesday.
In the Thomases' case, Edgewood Management, not the city housing authority, issued the eviction notice. Edgewood representatives did not return phone calls Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
Porter said the family had other strikes against it, including a police raid in October 2010 that stemmed from one son's arrest. The raid turned up marijuana, among other items, she said.
The Thomases' cause has been taken up by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the housing advocacy group Communities United.
Lt. Carla Lightsey, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Sheriff's Department, said a deputy was stationed near the Thomases' home Tuesday afternoon. But, she added, the Thomas family "has been very cooperative and they're leaving today."
As Jean Thomas stood in her living room amid boxes and piles of clothing, two of her grandchildren slept while the other two ran in and out of the house.
"The kids have nothing to do without their toys," she said. "The kids' stuff is gone. I just want to get it over with."