Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ought to waste no time in getting to the bottom of the report that the city Housing Authority has allowed 300 of its 2,800 scattered-site public housing units to be stripped by vandals. Housing officials dismiss this as an aberration caused by complicated factors (such as tenants disappearing into the night), but we see it as a reflection of serious morale and leadership problems within the Housing Authority.
We urge Mayor Schmoke to follow in Evening Sun reporter Joan Jacobson's footsteps and size up the impact of this problem on a neighborhood.
His tour should start in Lafayette Square. That area has seen much renovation and new construction lately. Some of the city's most prestigious black churches are there; notable residents include former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell. Yet two blocks away in the 1000 block North Arlington Ave. are two three-story houses that the Housing Authority has allowed to go to the dogs.
Years ago when these houses were put in tip-top shape, renovation work cost taxpayers at least $90,000.
How long they have been vandalized is not clear. Neighbors say they have been open to the elements for months. If they ever were boarded up, they are not now. Anyone can walk in, wreck them further, grab whatever is removable and walk away.
Things get worse around the corner on Riggs Ave. There, whole blocks of modest, privately owned row houses are in various stages of abandonment, ready targets for arsonists.
This scene of neglect and deterioration borders on an area where the Nehemiah partnership of the state and city governments and local religious groups is spending more than $17 million to build and rehabilitate 250 homes. How is that renewal effort going to survive this abandonment around it? How are homebuyers going to be attracted to the area if they see that the city itself is one of the main sources of neighborhood deterioration?
This kind of vandalism is possible only if neighbors do not care what happens next door. It can happen only when once-watchful community organizations either are dormant or tired of complaining to housing authorities and not getting any action. If the city allows houses this close to a middle-class enclave to deteriorate, what hope is there for poorer neighborhoods?
The city's main argument for replacing high-rise public housing has been that scattered-site units can be maintained better. Yet the Housing Authority's dismal performance in letting these 300 houses deteriorate mocks that claim.
This debacle hints at demoralization and mismanagement within the Housing Authority. If Commissioner Robert W. Hearn does not initiate corrective action, Mayor Schmoke should.