'That's not how you talk': East Baltimore residents take issue with mayor's comments about their neighborhood

The vacant houses have a name: “abandominiums.”

It wasn’t Hugh Osborne’s first choice of housing. “We live there because we cannot afford the houses that’s legal,” he says. “Prices are too steep.”

Osborne and other residents of Broadway East took issue with comments that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh made while she was touring the area to revisit the work of her violence reduction initiative.

In a segment that aired on Fox 45 this week, Pugh was heard commenting to another official: “What the hell? We should just take all this [expletive] down.”

She later remarked that she could smell rats and dead animals in the area.

To some residents, the mayor’s statements seemed like a jab at the people who have lived in the area their whole lives.

“Like we less of people,” said one longtime resident, who declined to give his name for fear of his safety. “What she said was offensive.”

Dante Lessane, 48, agreed. “That’s not how you talk,” she said. “That’s not professional at all.”

A spokesman for the mayor stressed Pugh’s commitment to improving the lives of East Baltimore residents.

“I can assure you that community leaders are aware of the mayor’s commitment” to the area, said housing commissioner Michael Braverman. “The mayor cares. That’s why she’s walking.”

Braverman said the mayor also plans to introduce legislation later this month that would create a $20 million fund for affordable housing.

Several residents suggested that instead of tearing down the vacant units, they could be converted into affordable housing units.

Lessane would like to see more apartments available in the area in her price range.

“A lot of stuff we can’t afford,” she said. “I work at McDonald’s.”

Osborne said he’d like to see homeless people be given the resources to buy abandoned vacants and to convert them into safe, long-term housing.

“It’s easy to tear something down, but it’s hard to build it back up,” he said.

Braverman said it’s not always feasible to rehabilitate homes, since that requires expertise in plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as other areas.

Residents pointed to other issues, such as the lack of grocery stores in the area, and the methadone clinic that some say has become a magnet for crime.

Pugh hears them, Braverman said.

“The mayor listens to the community concerns,” he said. “She wants to do everything she can to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

Rodney Wright, 53, remembers the days when the neighborhood was thriving. People decorated their front steps with plants in painted tires, and held regular clean ups and block parties.

“It was beautiful,” he said, standing in front of a Formstone covered home, now vacant.

Nearby, a cat peeked through a shattered window. Wright would like to see city workers doing more to clean up the area.

“You see stuff piling up but you don’t see people doing anything about it,” he said.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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