When Dominique Scurry’s ceiling caved in, she had to move.
The Woodside Gardens resident asked management what to do about her lease.
The ceiling had fallen in on her old unit and she needed a temporary place to stay. Don’t worry about it, she said she was told. Until she got an eviction notice months later after moving back into her unit.
Scurry went to court. She paid the judge-ordered rent.
Months later, she got another notice. Confused, Scurry went to the Woodside Gardens rental office, where she was told she’d have to make an appointment for two weeks later, Feb. 20 —the day before the notice said she’d have to vacate her home.
Fifteen minutes before Scurry and advocates arrived for the appointment, she said, Woodside Gardens management cancelled.
Still, she and advocates went to the office, where they sat as office employees talked to her on the phone from the other side of a closed door, she and the advocates said.
Scurry, who told her story to The Capital, joined half a dozen residents of the privately owned low-income apartment complex Thursday night at Asbury United Methodist Church to testify to deplorable conditions, opaque bookkeeping and questionable management practices they feel damage their quality of life.
The testimony Thursday was part of a call to action by Anne Arundel Connecting Together, an activist coalition committed to training and organizing people to fight for affordable housing, gun violence reduction and safe schools among other issues.
The event centered on affordable housing and gun violence.
In attendance were city and county residents, diverse congregations spanning several faith traditions and elected officials: Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, Maryland state senators and delegates, city and county councilmembers.
Attendees thundered, sprang to feet, clapped and cried as residents told their stories: of sewage springing from bathtubs, surprise fees for compulsory unit transfers, unresponsive rent offices asking for thousands of dollars.
Later, victims of gun violence spoke of loved ones lost. Teachers spoke of inability to find a home in the communities they serve.
Barbara Poston, a Woodside Gardens resident, spoke on behalf of her daughter Tia, who was told she owed $12,000 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said.
She read a list of demands to Bobby Byrd, vice present of Fairstead, the real estate company that owns Woodside Gardens, which failed a HUD inspection in 2018.
Byrd cocked his head as Poston asked him, before a crowd of 531, to commit to an open-door policy, more recreational opportunities for families, safe unit conditions, speedy maintenance and treating residents with dignity.
The crowd murmured and shouted as Byrd talked of ongoing efforts, of “trying” to solve the problems.
“Like what?” one shouted. “Trying,” they parroted back to him.
“The word that is in here — a simple two syllable word — is commit,” said Rev. Stephen Tillett.
Byrd did eventually commit to the demands.
“We stand with the residents of Woodside,” he said. “The problems, the challenges that residents face — they’re not resident challenges. They’re our challenges.”
Fairstead representatives did not respond to several questions about living conditions, management practices and maintenance submitted before the meeting.
The gathering also served to commit elected officials to gun violence prevention measures, namely taking the Do Not Stand Idly By pledge to hold gun manufacturers accountable for guns used in violent crimes.
Jo Ann Mattson, executive director of the Light House, Inc., named the ACT’s demands to elected officials.
They are: A fair housing law; smart growth and zoning regulations; workforce housing; an affirmative housing trust; action against gun violence.
Both Buckley and Pittman committed to the demands. While the city has a fair housing law, the county introduced a bill last week that would prohibit discrimination in housing.
“You have my word that we will leave this city a better place than the way we found it,” Buckley said. Buckley is currently listed in a lawsuit in which residents of different properties owned by the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis similarly allege deplorable living conditions.
Pittman called the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign “brilliant.”