Less than two months after the federal government forced Nation of Islam Security Agency guards out of Baltimore's public housing, tenant leaders say drug dealers, thieves and vandals have returned to the high-rise projects.
At a news conference yesterday -- arranged with the help of the Nation of Islam -- four tenants made their accusations against Wells Fargo Guard Services, which took over security at public housing from NOI under court order Dec. 14.
But while the tenants said crime has increased, they offered no statistics to support their claims that vandals are breaking elevators, drug dealers are roaming the buildings and thieves are breaking into apartments.
Zack Germroth, city housing spokesman, said it is too early for the housing authority to tell if crime has returned to the high-rise buildings.
"We are accumulating and documenting complaints" [from tenants], he said.
City police also said they have yet to notice any changes.
"We haven't seen any increase in crime. It's still too early to tell," said Lt. Allen Kogut of the Police Department's Southeast District, which patrols the Flag House Courts project, east of downtown.
The news conference was arranged by tenant leaders from Flag House Courts, Murphy Homes, Lexington Terrace and Claremont Homes, and by Lyle Grandison, a member of the Nation of Islam. He also is a reporter for the Final Call, a newspaper published by the religious group.
Mr. Grandison said he works in public housing as a sociologist to help alleviate poor living conditions.
Tenant leaders contended they have noticed a marked change since Wells Fargo took over.
"When NOI was here, nothing got broken into. You could walk outside and keep your door unlocked," said Dorothy Scott, president of the tenants association at Flag House Courts.
Now, she and others said, outsiders are allowed into the building and drug dealers have been found in hallways and stairwells.
Tenants also said that, while NOI guards would escort visitors to tenants' apartments, Wells Fargo guards check identification of visitors, but do not escort them.
But Michael Thomas, who supervises guards for Wells Fargo at Flag House Courts, rebutted tenants' claims.
"We do provide escorts for tenants' visitors," he said.
Bobby Eddins, general manager of Wells Fargo Guard Services in Baltimore, did not return a reporter's call yesterday. A secretary said he was out of town.
The changing of the guard came more than a year after the city's Housing Authority gave the security contract to NOI, even though it overbid Wells Fargo by $1.1 million.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development -- later backed by the federal courts -- ordered the city to replace NOI with Wells Fargo.
But tenants and Housing Authority Director Daniel P. Henson III said NOI was successful in making public housing a safe place to live for the first time in decades.