Municipal and Housing Authority workers and police swept through another East Baltimore public housing high-rise building yesterday in an effort to rid the residence of grime and crime.
Wearing white hard hats, about 350 workers from 10 city agencies descended on the 12-story building at 26 S. Exeter St. at 9 a.m. and started hammering, sawing, painting and landscaping the grounds under the Extraordinary Comprehensive Housekeeping Operation, or ECHO.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has now conducted ECHO sweeps at all three high-rise buildings at the Flag House Courts public housing complex at a cost of $200,000 for each sweep. The money comes from Housing Authority operating funds and a federal drug elimination grant (DEG).
The first sweep took place June 1 at the high-rise at 107 S. Albemarle St., followed by another on June 22 at 127 S. Exeter St.
Flag House Courts has some 1,200 residents in 133 low-rise units and three high-rise buildings for a total of 487 apartments. The complex is just north of Little Italy.
The ECHO program is modeled after similar operations in public housing complexes in Chicago and Washington, D.C. "This is the Housing Authority's way of creating a clean and safe environment," said Samuel B. Little, assistant director of the Housing Authority.
At 26 S. Exeter St. yesterday, squads of maintenance workers spruced up the physical appearance of the 37-year-old building and attempted to reduce 600 outstanding work orders. A new security system was installed and photo identification cards were issued to each resident over the age of 10.
A private security firm, NOI Inc., was hired to patrol the building beginning at 4 p.m. yesterday. NOI also patrols the other two high-rises at Flag House Courts.
Lora Johnson, 28, a five-year resident of 26 S. Exeter St., was delighted with yesterday's sweep.
"I have a hole in my bathroom wall where people next door can look into my apartment," said Ms. Johnson, who said her requests for repairs have been frequently ignored. "My hot water in the sink is running constantly. I have to keep a towel over a pipe to keep it from leaking."
Ms. Johnson, the mother of three young children, also charged that her 3-year-old son contracted lead poisoning from ingesting peeling paint around the bathtub. "My daughter was almost shot a little while ago by police while they were chasing someone. This is a drug-infested, chaotic, violent and noisy place. There is never any rest," she said.
That could change with ECHO.
"ECHO is the first step in providing decent, safe and affordable housing, but a very important first step," said Daniel P. Henson, Housing Authority executive director, as he observed the sweep at Flag House Courts. "The success from here forward greatly depends on the residents. ECHO is the groundwork allowing residents more options in empowering themselves and taking control of their daily lives."
Among yesterday's efforts to clean up 26 S. Exeter St., workers picked up trash and hosed down hallways and stairwells that reeked of urine. They applied fresh coats of white paint to the green, graffiti-filled walls and, from the front entrance, removed a steel turnstile that residents detested.
Police arrested a woman on child-abuse charges and three other people on outstanding warrants.
Gregory Newborn, 42, a resident of Flag House Courts for five years, said he was shocked to see workers cleaning up the building. "They should have been doing this while it was happening," he said.
He said that, although his apartment is infested with mice and cockroaches and needs repairs, it beats living on the streets.