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After relocation, ex-Middle East resident living in misery

Lucille Gorham

For the past five years since being relocated by East Baltimore Development Inc. to a new city neighborhood, Lucille Gorham says she has been living in misery.

Just after she settled on the single-family house in the 3400 block of Kentucky Avenue in Belair-Edison for a purchase price of $184,900, a multitude of things went wrong.

Despite a home inspection paid for by EBDI on Nov. 9, 2005, the stove stopped working, followed by the microwave, the washing machine and the hot water heater. The house was infested with rodents. Rotting floor boards gave way to holes in two places on the first floor, and the enclosed front porch ceiling gushed with water whenever it rained.

Confined to a wheelchair, Gorham has been unable to climb the stairs to the second floor, and lives and sleeps on the first floor. The house is not handicapped accessible.

Adding to the woes, Gorham, 80, is diverting a portion of her monthly Social Security check to make $588.96 mortgage payments to Harbor Bank as part of the deal. Her $151,400 relocation benefit as a displaced homeowner from EBDI was not enough to cover the cost of the replacement house.

“If this is part of community planning, it doesn’t make sense,” Gorham said of the efforts to relocate residents from Middle East to other city communities to make way for a $1.8 billion redevelopment project just north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Her troubles attracted visitors last week. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and EBDI CEO Christopher Shea visited Gorham to inspect her house after multiple complaints were made by Gorham’s daughter, Sallie Gorham-Brown.

Young, through spokesman Lester Davis, said Wednesday that he was “working with the folks at EBDI to follow some of her issues.”

“He wants to help her,” Davis said. “He saw the problems she’s having in her home and he wants to remedy it.”

Davis said Young was uncertain if the city or EBDI would pay to make repairs to Gorham’s house.

Shea did not return repeated calls for comment.

A well-known community activist in East Baltimore since 1945, Gorham said she did not want to leave Middle East when EBDI relocation officials knocked on her door in 2004 to inform her that her house was being taken by eminent domain.

“I wanted to stay where I was,” she said, of her former house at 1931 E. Chase St., demolished to make way for Chapel Green, a 63-unit mixed-income apartment complex developed by the Penrose Group.

She said she purchased her old house in the 1970s for $17,000 through a low-income state loan program, making monthly payments totaling $120.46.

“I said when I moved there, ‘Well, gee this is great and I will be here until I die.’ I didn’t want to move. I loved my house.”

Gorham represents one of 732 households relocated by EBDI from the 88-acre portion of Middle East to new residences, an effort that began in 2001 funded in part by a $21.2 million federal loan.

The displacement was the first part of the nation’s largest urban redevelopment. About $564 million has been committed to the project, and the public’s share of that is $212.6 million. Much of the public’s commitment will take three decades for the city to repay with diverted property taxes.

Gorham and other original residents were promised they could move back to Middle East, yet there is not an abundance of housing for them to consider. To date, only 220 housing units, most of them rentals, have been built on the project’s Phase I site, just 37 percent of the planned housing.

EBDI officials have blamed the recession for the housing stall. They say a majority of those displaced residents are happy in their new residences, but they have declined to release a list of where the former residents have moved.

A study by Abt Associates Inc. of Bethesda dated July 2007 shows a majority of the 63 percent of relocated residents surveyed “rated EBDI good or excellent.” EBDI provides follow-up tracking to displaced families for three years after the relocation, the report says.

That is of little consequence to Gorham, who is bitterly disappointed with her housing situation and said she feels defeated.

“I never thought they were going to move everyone out of Middle East, especially the elderly people,” she said, of her former community, now partially demolished with wide swaths of cleared land where redevelopment has stalled.

“I don’t want to move back to Chase Street no more. Everyone I knew is gone,” she added. “A lot of the elderly people have now passed on.”