Residents, union workers protest sale of public housing
By DANAE KING and The Baltimore Sun
Jun 11, 2014 | 7:05 PM
Sixty city public housing residents and union workers staged a protest Wednesday against a plan to sell the housing to private developers.
Protesters fear the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's plan would lead to lost jobs, displaced residents and less available public housing.
Gary Stroud, 54 and a resident of Bernard Mason Senior Apartments, asked the city to rethink the plan, called Rental Assistance Demonstration program, or RAD, and let "residents and union people sit at the table."
Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said that the plan won't permanently displace any residents and that Housing Authority officials have been talking to residents about it since October 2013.
"There's absolutely no scenario where we would scrap this plan," he said. "That would be totally irresponsible."
The plan,announced in March, involves the city selling 40 percent of its public housing to private developers to raise money for upgrades and maintenance. The federal government is offering tax credits to developers who buy and renovate public housing.
Protesters yelled, "Housing is a human right," and held signs reading "Rethink RAD."
Sharon Jones, president of the tenants council at Bel-Park Tower, said the plan is "their way of bullying us out of housing." Opponents fear developers would one day raise rents, pricing them out.
Jones said the residents want the Housing Authority to get rid of bedbugs and address flooding and faulty sewer systems, but she fears that the way the city wants to do it would put the residents on the street.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reiterated her support Wednesday for the privatization project.
The Housing Authority needs $800 million worth of capital to renovate the properties, and the privatization plan is expected to improve more than 4,000 units in two years, Graziano said. The authority operates about 11,000 units.
Residents aren't the only ones concerned about the plan. Union workers who perform maintenance and carpentry in the buildings also protested.
Paul Wallace, 48 and vice president AFSCME Local 647, said the city is "displacing people."
Michael Pokorny, a project manager for the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, said the new management companies for each site plan to interview current Housing Authority employees.
"The developers have an incentive to maintain employees," he said. "They know the building and the tenants."