The last seven families yesterday vacated the Lexington Terrace high-rise building that symbolized the problems of the Baltimore City Housing Authority.
"I'm glad to get out," said Betty Flowers as she left 734 W. Fayette St. in West Baltimore where she lived for 20 years.
"I raised one child and one grandchild in there, but the pipes leaked water into my bedroom and it was unsanitary," Ms. Flowers recalled. "At times, dirty, sudsy water from other places came up through the sink."
Flowers and most of 734's tenants were relocated to the nearby McCulloh Homes.
A $7 million rehabilitation of the 35-year-old, 11-story building is set to begin later this year.
The problems at Lexington Terrace became public in January when many of the 69 families who lived in 734 delivered a petition to the executive director of the Housing Authority protesting the building's 25 percent vacancy rate and the unsafe and unsanitary conditions there. Some tenants later went on a rent strike.
To the residents' surprise, their petition touched off a series of visits to the high-rise from members of
the City Council, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke got stuck in an elevator at 734 in late January when she spent the night at the building.
During the visits, the officials expressed shock and outrage at what they saw at Lexington Terrace -- leaking gas stoves, faulty electrical wiring, hypodermic syringes discarded by drug abusers on playgrounds and vandalized, vacant apartments.
In February, Mr. Cisneros ordered a task force of residents, city and local federal housing officials to investigate Lexington Terrace. A report is to be released next week.
Mr. Cisneros is to revisit the complex on March 31.
The deplorable conditions at Lexington Terrace and other public housing complexes and an 18 percent vacancy rate in the city's 18 public housing high-rises led to the Feb. 22 removal of Robert W. Hearn as housing commissioner and executive director of the Housing Authority.
Before then, Mr. Hearn had dismissed a deputy director of the Housing Authority and the director of public housing units. Earlier this month, Mr. Schmoke named a former developer, Daniel P. Henson III, as the new housing commissioner.
In a draft report of the task force, preliminary plans for renovating 734 call for new plumbing, electrical and sewage systems, and ** new elevators. The rehabilitation project is expected to be completed in three years, a housing official said.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said during a news conference yesterday that the city has received a proposal from local building and construction trade unions to work with the Housing Authority in renovating 734. The unions would create an apprentice program for people who live in the community, the mayor said.
City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th, whose district includes Lexington Terrace, said there "is a high priority to get Lexington Terrace into a livable condition. A lot of us were ashamed that it got into the condition it did. Let's stop crying about yesterday, let's get on with it."