Last night Baltimore City Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioner approved an application to plan for the transformation of the Poe Homes neighborhood, just west of Martin Luther King Boulevard near the University of Maryland campus. WYPR’s Dominique Maria Bonessi speaks with Morning Edition Host Nathan Sterner.
NATHAN: Can you tell us exactly what it means to have the board approved an application for planning?
DOMINIQUE: So in order for housing authority to do anything they must first seek approval from the board of commissioners, which was established by the mayor, and the residential advisory board. Last night they received approval to apply for a 1.3 million dollar grant from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The grant allows for a planning process to commence that would decide how to transform the Poe Homes neighborhood.
But, it was unclear if this planning process would be restoring or demolishing the public housing that is there. Also, because this is still in the planning phases they don’t know if it would require relocations of residents.
NATHAN: How long does this application process take?
DOMINIQUE: The application process would take the housing authority a year or so to put together and involve the residents of Poe Homes. You can think of this like Perkins Homes about four years ago when they were in the beginning phases of redeveloping it.
NATHAN: Speaking of redeveloping, the board also approved a HUD application for the partial demolition of Gilmor Homes, but there were some conditions the board made. What were they?
DOMINIQUE: Robin Carter, vice chair of the board of commissioners, wanted to make sure that any pre-site work that is done will have an air quality survey--so pollution in the air as a result of tearing up the streets and digging-- for the safety of residents remaining in the neighborhood. Here is how, Peggy Webster, housing authority’s director of planning and development explained what would happen…
WEBSTER: “Let me just say we won’t be doing any demolition work that is going to affect air quality. As far as I know. Any required environmental related work that is necessary for contracting requirements will be addressed.”
DOMINIQUE: Another concern Carter shared stemmed from the fact that the partial demolition of the Gilmor Homes--pending approval by HUD—would occur in the October/December time period. Carter says that is right in the middle of the school year for children living in those units slated for demolition.
CARTER: “Because we are breaking it up in the middle of the year, and maybe some of the children in that 136 block, unit block, would have to be moved sooner to ensure they’re steadily in school.”
NATHAN: Have we learned yet what options residents of Gilmor Homes will have for relocation?
DOMINIQUE: So there are a few options for residents. Either they can stay at Gilmor Homes in a different unit, moved to private landlord owned with a voucher, or move into a similar unit in another public housing neighborhood. We do know that there will be no temporary housing for residents, but rather they want to move residents into permanent housing.
NATHAN: So there is precedent for the partial demolition of Gilmor Homes. Back in 1999, Murphy’s Homes was demolished using dynamite to bring down the 14-story high-rise. Can you refresh our memories as to what happened there to residents as a result of the demolition?
DOMINIQUE: So first between 1979 and 1984 the housing authority attempted to reduce crime in the high-rise by relocating “problem tenants”--or those that brought crime to the neighborhood--and replacing them with mature adults over 55 years of age. When that experiment failed and as residents were moving out prior to demolition the federal government offered tenants vouchers to move to private landlord housing. As a result, some people left the city for the counties and others moved out of state. Those who rejected the vouchers received three choices in other public housing neighborhoods.