Residents, union workers protest sale of public housing

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.

"This is an opportunity to enhance the quality of life for people who live in public housing," she said, adding that city officials were working "very aggressively" on the plan.

Graziano was at McCullough House on Wednesday to get information to those who are directly affected, he said.


Though there have been meetings with residents, Jeff Singer, former CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, said the process has been "undemocratic."

At the meetings, "people feel they've been talked to and not had the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way," he said.

More meetings are planned, though Graziano emphasized that "there is no alternative" to the plan.

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."

Pokorny said the Housing Authority also plans to consider those employees for other jobs at the agency.

Singer said other cities have implemented more safeguards. He called Baltimore's plan "another giant step in destroying the concept of public housing."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.