The leading candidates to become Baltimore's next mayor don't always agree on things, but they do on this: Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano has got to go.
The leading candidates to become Baltimore's next mayor don't always agree on things, but they do about this: City housing chief Paul Graziano has got to go.
Former mayor Sheila Dixon thinks the current mayor should fire him. Councilman Nick J. Mosby spent Tuesday morning at East Baltimore's Latrobe Homes calling for Graziano's resignation.
State Sen. Catherine Pugh and businessman David L. Warnock say that if elected, they will replace Graziano. And City Councilman Carl Stokes — who is planning investigative hearings into public-housing conditions — says the agency needs "new leadership at the top."
The criticism of the longest-serving of Baltimore's agency heads comes amid an outcry over poor conditions in city public housing, where some elderly and disabled residents recently went days without heat or water. Women at three developments have alleged that maintenance men refused to make repairs unless tenants engaged in sex acts with them.
Graziano is also facing criticism over elimination of the Housing Authority's inspector general and accusations that top housing officials have sought to retaliate against whistleblowers.
"We must demand more for the residents of the city of Baltimore," Mosby told reporters Tuesday. "Because of a lack of leadership, because of a lack of oversight, I'm requesting Commissioner Paul Graziano immediately resign."
Amid the mounting criticism, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City on Tuesday reinstated two employees who had been disciplined after joining a lawsuit accusing maintenance workers of sexual harassment, several sources said. Lucky Crosby Jr. had been fired last month, and Anthony Coates had been suspended indefinitely without pay. Both are expected to be back at work Wednesday, sources said.
Graziano for 15 years has held dual roles as commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, a city agency, and as head of the federally funded housing authority, which is independent from city government. His salary of $219,900 is paid partly by the city, partly by the housing authority.
Asked for comment on calls for his resignation or dismissal, a spokeswoman for Graziano said only that he is "committed to the citizens of Baltimore and is focused on working to improve the conditions at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City developments to ensure that residents have safe, livable and affordable housing opportunities."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has staunchly defended Graziano, saying he is a national leader on housing issues. She has praised his plan to privatize about 40 percent of the city's public housing, a move officials say would bring $350 million in improvements to the complexes.
Early Tuesday, Graziano continued a recent tour of public housing complexes with a visit to McCulloh Homes. He was escorted by a group of residents and activists from Maryland Communities United, who petitioned Graziano to come see poor conditions.
Within minutes of walking into Tiffany Hall's apartment and smelling the overwhelming odor of gas, Graziano called for the Fire Department and ordered Hall moved into a new unit. Hall said she repeatedly called the maintenance staff about the smell over the last two months.
She also said she has waited for two years for workers to fix the damage to her dining room ceiling caused by a burst pipe. Workers repaired the leak and cleaned up the debris, but left a gaping hole in the drywall several feet wide above her table.
"There was a flood and no one came to fix it," Hall said. "I called for the gas. I've told them so many times. I'm scared I'm about to blow up or something while I'm in the bed. I've been terrified of it."
Another tenant on the tour walked in Hall's apartment, and overcome by the smell, said: " Oh, my God! How can you stay in here?"
As the firetruck arrived moments later, Graziano walked with Hall across the courtyard to show her a newly renovated one-bedroom apartment where she could move.
"This is your new home, if you want it," Graziano told her, saying he wanted to find her new accommodations out of an "abundance of cautiousness." The housing chief said it also would be easier to do the extensive work required in Hall's apartment if it's vacant.
During another stop Tuesday, Graziano toured the unit where Ashley Jones lives with her four young children. A panel is missing from a bedroom window, the dining room light and smoke detector don't work, the bathroom sink falls off the wall, and water leaks from the base of the toilet when it's flushed. Crews were replacing the ceiling in her bedroom, which Jones said "fell in" a month ago.
"We'll make sure our guys have a complete list of all of these items and get back to you," Graziano told Jones. He promised that she'd have a response by late Tuesday.
Jones said dealing with the maintenance crews has been extremely frustrating.
"They procrastinate a lot," Jones said. "When you call with certain situations that should be an emergency, it can take up to a year for them to come fix them. When my bedroom ceiling fell in, they came and removed the debris and left."
Despite Graziano's recent efforts, Mosby described them as too little, too late.
Speaking to a phalanx of news cameras at Latrobe Homes on Tuesday, Mosby sharply criticized Graziano's tour.
"Our commissioner has been touring around the city for the past week acting as if he didn't know that these conditions were deplorable," Mosby said. "It's completely unacceptable."
Stokes, who grew up in the Latrobe Homes and represents the area, called Mosby's actions "political gamesmanship."
"I've gotten emails from people saying, 'Aren't there enough problems in his district?'" Stokes said, noting that Mosby's district includes Gilmor Homes, a focus of the sex-for-repairs allegations, and Lakeview Towers, where tenants went without power for days.
Stokes said he believes Graziano needs to remain on the job long enough to answer questions from multiple ongoing investigations, including a probe by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The City Council will be holding its own investigative hearing soon, Stokes said.
Pugh said that if elected, she plans to completely revamp Baltimore's housing programs, separating the city and federal entities.
"He's certainly not my choice for housing commissioner," she said of Graziano.
Warnock, who entered the race for Baltimore mayor Tuesday, was similarly critical of the housing chief.
"There's no question that what's going on under his watch doesn't inspire confidence, and, candidly, based on everything I know, I would let him go," he said. "When I'm elected mayor, he will need to have his resume updated."
Dixon, who had employed Graziano during her mayoral term, was the first of the mayoral candidates to call for Graziano's ouster weeks ago.
"If he doesn't step down, the mayor should ask him to leave," Dixon said Tuesday. "Things are already falling apart across the board. I'm sorry, but this is getting out of hand. He needs to go."