Despite ongoing questions about some administrative practices. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City is marking its 75th year on a congratulatory note.
The agency was created Dec. 13, 1937, after a vote by the Baltimore City Council. Shortly afterward, segregated public housing developments opened in the city, developing into larger sites over the years that included several high-rise towers that were razed about 20 years ago after drug dealing, blight and violence took over.
To mark the anniversary of the authority’s founding, HABC noted that it currently provides public housing for more than 20,000 residents. It said in a news release that it “became a pioneering vision that reshaped the city’s landscape.”
“For 75 years, HABC has been committed to providing safe, affordable and quality housing for our city’s most vulnerable residents and encouraging self-sufficiency,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
“Today, it has evolved into an agency that maintains its mission while creating mixed-income communities that will attract new residents as a part of my plan to bring 10,000 new households to Baltimore.”
City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano, who also serves as head of HABC, said the agency’s work is ongoing. A September 2007 report by the local Abell Foundation found that HABC’s housing inventory had declined 42 percent since 1992 — to 9,625 units in 2007 from a total of 16,525 units in 1992.
“Over the past 75 years, the work of HABC has been tremendous, but it is far from done,” Graziano said in a statement. “I’m most proud of the work we’ve done to preserve and expand housing choices throughout the entire region to ensure people get quality housing.”
An ongoing issue at HABC centers on payment of damages to former residents of public housing who sued the agency over lead-paint poisoning.
HABC has for years refused to pay most damage awards to victims of lead-paint poisoning who lived in its homes, leading to bitter disputes between the former residents and city officials. Graziano has said that HABC is unable to obtain insurance against such liability and lacks both the financial resources and the federal approval required to pay the awards itself.
His spokesperson, Cheron Porter, did not return a request for comment Monday.
Baltimore-based lawyer Saul E. Kerpelman, who represents many plaintiffs in litigation against HABC over lead-paint damages, said Monday the 75th anniversary of the agency is a bittersweet milestone.
“It’s definitely a problem still,” Kerpelman said of the lead-paint lawsuits. “To me, the picture of the agency is that they are more concerned with putting out press releases that make them look good than having safe places for children to live.”
This story was edited on January 16, 2013 to remove inaccurate information.
Editor’s Note: The following letter from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has been appended to this article with the understanding that article contained errors when it was first published.
The Daily Record published an article Dec. 17, entitled “Housing Authority Marks 75th Year.” While we were pleased to have this milestone recognized, we were appalled and disappointed that the writer’s clear inaccuracies, misrepresentations and reckless disregard for the facts detracted from the celebration.
The article uses this great occasion to lambast the agency about a Nov. 9 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) audit report. However, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) was neither audited nor criticized by HUD. In fact, the agency was not even mentioned in the report. The reporter was made aware that HABC does not oversee the program in question, yet she chose to disregard that fact. The reporter had ample opportunity to make the correction, but chose to let the misinformation stand. The reporter instead disparaged this momentous occasion designed to celebrate an honorable legacy for our employees and residents.
While the reporter took this opportunity to unjustly malign HABC, she missed the opportunity to discuss some of our major achievements including the recent historic settlement of the 16-year-old Thompson Consent Decree. This exciting agreement will provide 2,600 additional housing opportunities for Baltimore City residents throughout the metropolitan area. HABC has also been an active partner in providing vouchers to homeless veterans, the non-elderly disabled and youths aging out of the foster care system. We also worked to help revitalize communities in Barclay through our partnership with Telesis Corporation and are beginning an exciting new project in O’Donnell Heights.
HABC has an amazing history of serving people in their critical time of need. The reporter could have also taken this opportunity to talk about the dedication of our employees who work hard to house the city’s most vulnerable. Today HABC serves more than 20,000 people in public housing and nearly 30,000 in the Housing Choice Voucher Program. As of result of our employee’s hard work, 97.2 percent of our public housing units are occupied. All of this was ignored.
HABC has kept the mission of public housing alive by maintaining and modernizing its buildings and enriching the lives of its residents through innovative social services, recreational and educational programs, and job training initiatives despite dwindling federal resources year after year.
We appreciate the editors of the Daily Record for being responsive in their pursuit of journalistic integrity.
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano