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Renovators vs. vandals and thieves 14 units wrecked at Perkins Homes


Shattered glass from broken windows, trash and a used syringe litter apartment 251 on Dallas Court in the Perkins Homes housing development near Fells Point.

A plastic basin containing urine sits in the middle of the bedroom and the utility closet is filled with dirt and empty liquor bottles.

Taxpayers paid about $30,000 to renovate the unit. It has new kitchen cabinets, new counter tops, a new porcelain bathtub and toilet and new walls and doors.

But the one-bedroom apartment is vacant, heavily damaged by vandals. Meanwhile, the city housing authority's waiting list has grown to 30,000 families.

Vandalism and theft have become a widespread problems for the housing authority, which oversees federally subsidized public housing in the city. Renovation crews at Cherry Hill Homes, in South Baltimore, say copper pipes and aluminum windows and doors are frequently stolen -- sometimes hours after being installed. The thieves are so brazen that the workers must even keep an eye on their tools.

All 688 units of Perkins Homes have been renovated since 1991 ata cost of $17 million, said Bill Toohey, the spokesman for the housing authority. At Cherry Hill, a $20 million renovation project is under way.

"These problems [vandalism and theft] have intensified over the last two or three years. They are new problems -- we are looking to find ways to fix them," Mr. Toohey, said, adding, "They reflect larger social problems like the homeless and anger and violence surrounding the drug trade."

So far, vandals have wrecked 14 Perkins Homes units, which need to be re-renovated at a cost that is yet to be determined, Mr. Toohey said. Another 13 units, which rent for about $75 a month, are now vacant, awaiting tenants, and are vulnerable to more vandalism.

Some of the Perkins units have been repaired and vandalized again,Mr. Toohey said. One unit, near the corner of Pratt and Bond streets, was boarded up by the authority after repeated vandalism. Other units stand vacant and unprotected with smashed windows.

Donnell Comer, 29, whose mother lives near the boarded up Perkins Homes unit said, "It's a crying shame. I've seen people steal the door off the hinges."

The vandalized units at Perkins Homes are mainly one-bedroom apartments. The housing authority has difficulty finding tenants for them because federal regulations say they are too small to rent to the average public housing applicant -- a single mother with two or more children, Mr. Toohey said.

Across town, the theft of windows at Cherry Hill Homes was so bad that the authority was forced to seek an additional $1 million from HUD this year to purchase new windows so the renovation work can proceed.

"They are walking away in the middle of the night," Mr. Toohey said of the aluminum windows. Authority officials have considered putting serial numbers on each window or hiring armed guards to protect the property, but these options are "more expensive than the windows," Mr. Toohey said.

A reporter visited Cherry Hill and discovered that vandals had used bricks and rocks to smash many windows. Each broken window would cost at least $100 to replace, a construction worker said.

The housing authority has police officers, but their primary job is to protect housing authority residents, not property, Mr. Toohey said.

"How could we be patrolling vacant properties while people are getting killed in Murphy Homes?" said Mr. Toohey. Recently, a 9-year-old girl was found dead in a trash bin at Murphy Homes, a sprawling high-rise development in West Baltimore.

The housing authority is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yesterday, Maxine Saunders, the HUD manager for Baltimore, declined to comment on the vandalism problem.

Meanwhile, some residents at Perkins and Cherry Hill said they were disgusted by the repeated vandalism.

"They are nice places, but they tear them up so. It don't make no sense," said Gaybelle Comer, who has lived at Perkins Homes for 26 years and pays $77 a month in rent. "Late at night, you hear windows being broke up."

William Johnson, a 49-year-old homeless man who was at Ms. Comer's apartment, said he wished he could rent one of the apartments.

"I'm on the list for public housing. Why let these kids tear it up when I could be in there? Give me a place where I can sit and call my own, where I can fix my own food," Mr. Johnson said. "I'd keep it up."

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