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“Get written approval” — Baltimore’s Housing Authority updates policy after Brooklyn Homes shooting

The shuttered community center in Brooklyn Homes. Photo by Emily Hofstaedter/WYPR.
Emily Hofstaedter
A shuttered building in Brooklyn Homes.

After a mass shooting left two dead earlier this month during the annual Brooklyn Day party on a development run by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), the city’s public housing authority that manages properties serving low-income residents says it’s looking to update policies on how it manages event authorization, like block parties. As of now, there are few readily available written policies.

Officials say they are still working out many of the details on how that will happen, but a July 18th meeting outlined some first steps, starting with a resolution to clarify gatherings in communal spaces.

In the aftermath of the Brooklyn Day shooting, which took place at the Brooklyn Homes community in South Baltimore, HABC officials maintained the event was “unsanctioned” and the agency knew nothing of the gathering until after the shooting happened. When asked for written policies regarding the organizing of events, Senior Vice-President of Communications Ingrid Antonio wrote, “The policies are undergoing an internal review and will be available once they are finalized… we are reviewing what is in place now and what we will look at amending. Policies and procedures must be reviewed, discussed, and updated to meet the adapting environments that we work in every day.”

Those policies will now be spelled out in the agency’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policies.

Previously, there were no details in the ACOP on how residents can hold a gathering on communal property. Now, the updated policy, which passed unanimously, will require residents “to get written approval from HABC for any indoor or outdoor common area for an event. Additionally, prior written approval from HABC is needed for any utilities in any indoor or outdoor common area for an event.”

Any violation of this “would be considered a material violation of the lease.”

These policies affect over 42,000 people living in 5,952 units across Baltimore City, according to HABC’s website. The changes will be communicated “internally and externally” through “various platforms.”

In an email to WYPR, Antonio wrote that residents need to contact the Asset Manager for events of any size and obtain written authorization, which is then sent all the way up the chain to both legal and resident affairs for final approval. There is a $50 cost for privately organized tenant events that are authorized by the HABC.

In that same email, Antonio points out some activities that are “prohibited” by the lease agreement, such as no alcohol on HABC property for an event (“homemade cocktails” were allegedly served at Brooklyn Day according to media reports), electric hookups cannot be used without written authorization and organizers must provide their own security for events held after 4 p.m. Additionally, organizers must provide their own insurance for such events. HABC was not able to provide numbers or estimates for what insurance and security would cost but wrote that “pricing is determined by the security company chosen.” The copy of the lease provided to WYPR, dated from 2018, did not contain the stipulations about alcohol, security and insurance.

Residents also have the option to organize an event through the Tenant Council Association, which Antonio describes as being like “the eyes and ears” of the housing authority; that group is part of the Resident Advisory Board and comprises two representatives from each of the 19 HABC communities.

The council then helps residents come up with a budget, which can be paid by using HUD funds made available for tenant events. “We have to submit our paperwork before 30 days of having our event, you know, you have to send in your budget, the flyer, and everything,” said Paulette Carroll, president of the Town at the Terraces Tenant Council. HABC approved tenant council events are free. The HABC has maintained that no funding requests came through the RAB for Brooklyn Day.

The Department of Transportation, who does not handle event permits specifically on HABC property but does handle road closures related to events, confirmed in an email early Tuesday morning that “from 2013-2023 there are no applications on file for DOT road closure permits related to events held on HABC properties.” That includes any road closures related to past Brooklyn Day parties. The HABC has said that previous years, the event was officially organized.

In a statement sent to WYPR on July 5th, an HABC representative wrote, “In prior years, residents organized the event and communicated it to HABC in advance of the scheduled date. This allowed the authority to notify the Baltimore Police Department and other appropriate agencies of the event to monitor as needed. However, since COVID-19, the event has not been organized by the residents in the same manner and properly communicated to HABC, including their most recent event.”

Previously, the only place stipulating written approval for events was one line in section 13H of the resident dwelling lease that reads, “Resident must obtain prior written approval from HABC in order to use any indoor or outdoor common area for an event.”

During a July 13th city hearing held in response to the Brooklyn Day shooting, CEO Janet Abrahams came down on residents who broke the rules by saying, “When we learn about those things, we have consequences. And the consequences is to make sure that we terminate their lease, understanding that if the Housing Authority terminates your lease, you cannot be housed in any programs across the country because of these types of events.”

Those statements were met with harsh criticism from city council members and local leaders.

“I did not hear any mea culpa,” said Kobi Little, President of the Baltimore NAACP as he directed his attention towards Abrahams. “I did not hear any, any discussion of the many, many things that the housing authority could have done to be in touch with this community.”

CEO Abrahams spokelast week to local TV and said that the HABC has identified the residents who provided utilities for the Brooklyn Day festivities, those names have been turned over to the police she said but also that the HABC is able to enter memorandums of understanding with those individuals to “work through some issues.”

“We don’t want to be the bearer of bad news and put people out – they made a mistake,” said Abrahams.

07/25/2023: This story has been updated with additional information from the Department of Transportation.
Correction 07/25/2023: An earlier caption on the image misidentified the building as the Brooklyn Homes Community Center.

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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