Former public housing complexes that Baltimore officials sold to developers are evicting tenants too quickly and without proper notice, a new complaint alleges.
Disability Rights Maryland, a nonprofit advocacy group, investigated court filings related to former public housing and said it found seven cases over the past year in which residents were evicted or served with eviction notices improperly.
“The Housing Authority made some public promises about how the [privatization] was going to secure the rights tenants had, that those would carry over,” said David Prater, an attorney with Disability Rights Maryland. “What we’ve seen is that has not always been the case. The privatization has caused many to lose out on their rights. There needs to be a lot of vigilance and oversight of this privatization.”
Prater recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about the Baltimore privatization program, called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. The complaint cited issues such as premature notices to vacate properties, lack of information about how residents can request a hearing to object, unclear letters and early filings of breach of lease complaints.
In 2015, Baltimore's Housing Authority embarked on a plan to sell 22 public housing complexes to private developers under a national model designed to raise millions to pay for renovation and repairs to the rundown buildings. Officials stressed at the time that the privatized units would continue to be operated as low-income housing, with eligibility and rents dictated by the federal government.
The privatization program’s rules guarantee that tenants will receive the same rights as they did under public housing laws, but Prater said he’s seeing violations.
“Some RAD tenants have been evicted after receiving Notices to Vacate that did not conform to the legal requirements,” he wrote. “We are also concerned that residents are vacating their units after receiving notice, but before a hearing in court, as a result of receiving notices that failed to provide the required notice of due process and tenant rights. … We have no way of knowing how many residents unwittingly vacated their units after receiving a Notice of Lease Termination that was likely legally flawed.”
Baltimore housing officials said they are investigating the complaint.
“We are currently reviewing the complaint submitted to HUD and investigating the allegations,” spokeswoman Tania Baker said in an email. The Housing Authority “has contacted HUD and will be working with HUD to resolve this matter. We will continue to work in good faith with [Disability Rights Maryland] as we believe our collective purpose is the same, which is to serve our residents.”
A spokeswoman for HUD did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
City Councilman John Bullock, chairman of the housing committee, said the complaint “draws concerns.”
“If this kind of situation is happening, we need to have some oversight over it,” he said. “Even if it’s just seven people, we want to know more about it.”
Among the complexes that were privatized are the Allendale, Bernard E. Mason, the Brentwood, Chase House, Hollins House, Lakeview Towers and Bel Park Tower, the McCulloh Homes Extension, Primrose Place, Pleasant View Gardens and the Wyman House.
Baltimore housing officials have asked HUD to include the 551-unit Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore and East Baltimore’s 630-unit Perkins Homes in the federal program that sells public housing to private developers who promise to make long-needed repairs or redevelop the properties.
With Gilmor and Perkins added, 24 of the city’s 38 public housing developments could be included in the privatization effort.
Housing officials have said that while they plan to demolish six buildings at the Gilmor Homes, they have “no concrete plans” to privatize the properties there.
Prater said he’s noticed some improvements at the facilities that have been privatized. But he’s concerned about whether more substantive infrastructure work is being done.
“There have been some very good improvements to the properties,” he said. “People are getting some of their issues addressed. They’re getting new cabinets, new paint. That’s happening. But it may not be addressing longer, more structural problems with the buildings.”