New Hopes For Public Housing Suffer As Old Woes Resurface

Justin Fenton and JoAnna Daemmrich, Baltimore Sun, Aug. 19

Yvonne Slater’s life is ordinary now, and she’s thankful. There’s no barbed wire in her neighborhood anymore. No backed-up plumbing. No dark stairwells littered with discarded crack bags.

Ten years ago today, Slater stood amid a throng of cheering spectators, teary-eyed yet relieved to see the decrepit Lafayette Courts public housing high-rise crash to the ground.

Today, she lives comfortably in a three-bedroom townhouse on the same spot, behind Baltimore’s main post office in a tidy new community.

But Pleasant View Gardens is beginning to show wear, and crime is creeping back in.

The closest elementary school, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, has closed. As a result, children are being bused to three other schools, all failing.

{snip}

Once a symbol of urban decay, Lafayette Courts was the first of four desolate, dangerous public housing high-rise developments that the city flattened to clear the way for smaller, mixed-income communities.

It was reborn as the 337-unit Pleasant View Gardens, an attractive refuge of traditional brick rowhouses with neatly groomed lawns in a dilapidated section of East Baltimore, heralded by local and national leaders as a model for how to better house the poor.

Now, the biggest problems residents face are emerging blight and rising crime.

The grassy circle named New Hope Circle and designed as a community gathering spot has a new nickname among neighbors: “The Cut,” street slang for prison.

In January, two men were shot after a fight erupted at a party in the community center’s multipurpose room. Terry Steven Street, 23, a resident of the nearby Douglass Homes public housing development, was shot in the face and died that night.

{snip}

Melody Offer, 34, is planning her wedding—and her exit. Offer, who reviews worker’s compensation claims for the state, has three children and waited for 12 years to get into public housing.

Rent is determined by income level, and Offer is spending $768 a month for her three-bedroom home while others pay almost nothing, and she complains that she can’t get repairs done.

“Honestly,” she says, “I hate it.”

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