Venetian blinds and pool tables have replaced drug dealers and rats at the Harvey Johnson Towers in West Baltimore.
Yesterday, nearly 50 tenants who had been angry about the conditions of their building gathered in a recreation room to discuss promised improvements with U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat. They concluded that much has improved since the congressman came to help them last month.
"If you had been at the first meeting and heard the complaints," Cummings said after the meeting, "well, this is a completely different thing."
Cummings had hastily arranged the first meeting after tenants complained of dangerous, unsanitary living conditions and disrespectful building supervisors. Several reforms have now been implemented. Security was upgraded to include 24-hour guards and a new entry control policy was implemented.
The new provisions "basically locked down" the building at night, said Jeanine Crippen, vice president of West Side Management, the New Jersey-based company that runs the development.
The company also hired a new extermination company, extended laundry room hours and is providing more frequent trash collection.
Cummings acknowledged the improvements, but he repeatedly emphasized the residents' need to "empower themselves" and take responsibility.
Residents said they are pleased with the improvements. "The place is lovely," said Elmer Miles, 78. "My only complaint - you got a rec room with nothing in it. You can't play pool or checkers."
"It's a 100 percent improvement," added tenant and chaplain Louis Sharp, 65. "Although we still have other issues that we have to iron out."
"To tell you the truth, I don't have any complaints," added longtime resident Ella Byrd, 100. The biggest improvement, she said, is the boost in security. Still, many complained about drug dealers hanging around the building.