Graziano meets with public housing residents

Baltimore's housing chief agrees to tour public housing to see conditions.

Activists and public housing tenants met Monday with Baltimore housing chief Paul T. Graziano, who agreed to tour complexes to hear directly from residents who say they're living in deplorable conditions.

John P. Comer, lead organizer for Maryland Communities United, said Graziano and a handful of tenants and others met behind closed doors for about an hour. The housing authority has come under fire for poor maintenance and for allegations that some workers demanded sex before making repairs.

A spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City confirmed the meeting and the planned site visits, but did not provide details.

"It was a positive meeting with a fruitful discussion," spokeswoman Tania Baker said in an email. "It opened the lines of communication. We will continue with a series of follow-up meetings and site visits."

Baker said officials have been working "diligently" to improve conditions at Gilmor Homes and other public housing developments. The housing authority is selling nearly 40 percent of its units to private developers to generate money for renovation of the aging complexes.

Camay Owens, an eight-year resident of Gilmor Homes who attended the meeting, said she was fed up with the conditions she and other residents must endure. She said she has asked since last year for housing officials to repair windows in her apartment to stop heat from escaping.

"I sleep with my oven on and all four of my burners," said Owens, 28. "It's terrible. There's no excuse."

Comer said many tenants feel optimistic about the meeting with Graziano and the coming site visits. Comer said Graziano agreed to tour McCulloh and Gilmor homes this week and Cherry Hill and Latrobe homes next week. They two sides will come together again Dec. 4 to discuss progress, Comer said.

"We're here today to establish a system of accountability that doesn't seem to exist," Comer told reporters outside housing headquarters after the meeting.

Comer said Graziano did not commit to a timeline to make the repairs residents are seeking.

Little was discussed about the sexual harassment allegations, Comer said. He said Graziano told the group he was limited in what he could say because of ongoing litigation in the case.

Eleven women have filed a federal suit that alleges assault and violations of their constitutional and other rights, including the right to physical security.

Lucky Crosby Sr., who worked as the safety officer for the union that represents maintenance workers, said he was fired Thursday by the housing authority in retaliation for investigating the alleged harassment and speaking up about conditions in the public housing complexes.

He said a notice was taped to his door, telling him that he was being terminated for "workplace violence." He said he was fighting his termination and awaiting a grievance hearing.

Crosby submitted an affidavit as part of the lawsuit that says he went to door to door in July to investigate the allegations.

Baker said the agency was unable to discuss personnel matters.

Also Monday, Councilman Carl Stokes called for an investigative hearing into the lawsuit's allegations. He also wants to investigate why elderly and disabled residents at Lakeview Towers in Reservoir Hill recently spent four days with no water and only sporadic heat.

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