Baltimore prosecutors said Wednesday they've opened a criminal investigation into allegations that maintenance men at the Gilmor Homes and other public housing sites demanded sexual favors in exchange for making repairs.
"Due to the seriousness of the allegations our office is conducting an investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be brought," Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, said in a statement.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expressed disgust at the allegations Wednesday, but defended Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano's handling of them.
"If the allegations are true, they're despicable and unacceptable," Rawlings-Blake told reporters at City Hall. "The commissioner takes those allegations very seriously. I know they're doing an investigation. I await the results of that investigation. There is no excuse for that type of behavior."
Lawyers representing 11 women who live in public housing on Tuesday amended their federal lawsuit to include allegations at three properties: Gilmor Homes, Westport and Govans Manor. The women allege assault and violations of their constitutional and fundamental rights, including the right to physical security.
In one of the new cases, a 24-year-old woman who lives at Gilmor Homes says a maintenance supervisor refused to fix her burst heat pipes in 2013. She says after refusing demands for sex over the years, she has been left without heat and with mold.
The Baltimore Sun does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Graziano, the housing commissioner, has come under criticism from several groups of protesters who are calling for him to be fired. On Wednesday, several residents of public housing chanted, "He's got to go!" asking for Graziano's termination.
At the protest at the Gilmor Homes, residents described conditions there as "unlivable."
Graziano believes the allegations are "extremely disturbing," according to spokeswoman Tania Baker said. The agency "considers any employee actions that would subject its residents to sexual abuse or sexual harassment to be reprehensible."
The sexual harassment allegations come as residents of the Lakeview Towers, which is owned by the Housing Authority, went days without being able to flush toilets or take baths due to a lack of water. Water was restored at the complex Tuesday night.
Rawlings-Blake said she is "absolutely not" considering firing Graziano. She praised his plan to privatize about 40 percent of Baltimore's public housing complexes in an effort to speed up repairs on the aging properties.
"The water issue underscores the importance of the work he's been doing," the mayor said. "Baltimore City is a leader in the effort to improve the structures of our high rises... The housing authority understands these buildings are vulnerable for that type of service breakdown."
The city and federal governments have granted tax breaks to attract developers to buy and revitalize aging public housing units in "desperate need of rehabilitation." A September review by The Sun found leaking ceilings, crumbling tiles, mildew, roaches and rat droppings at several complexes to be sold.
Baltimore is the 26th-largest city in the country, but has the fifth-most public housing — more than 11,000 units. The Housing Authority says it would cost $800 million to renovate or repair all of them. The privatization plan will address about half the problem, officials say.