Are Low-Income Residents a Priority?

Poe Homes Water Fiasco

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By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, Special to the AFRO

Water has for the most part has been restored to the residents of Poe Homes in West Baltimore.  But an air of wariness remains among residents at the aging housing project after the weeks long ordeal of losing access to water has raised concerns the low-income facility was a low priority for the city.

A variety of residents spoke to the AFRO about last week’s perilous outage, and most said they still believe that the prolonged period without water in their homes was in part a matter of long-term neglect.

“If this problem happened in Fells Point, they would have got it done, they would have gotten it done in two days, “a resident who only wanted to be identified as Ms K. told the AFRO.

Shanelle, is one of the residents of Poe Homes, the West Baltimore housing project, which experienced a crippling water outage last week. (Photo Credit: Stephan Janis)

“We’re Poe Homes, I feel they look at us as being the poor people.”

Shanelle, a five-year resident said life was difficult during the nearly eight days she went without water.

“We weren’t able to wash clothes take a bath or shower,” she said.  “We had to use the bottled water they gave us to flush the toilets.”

Officials with the Department of Public Works dispute that Poe homes was neglected.  In an interview with the AFRO DPW spokesman Jeffrey Raymond said repair efforts began immediately and have been ongoing since the crisis began.

“This was absolutely a priority,” he said.  “We never left this alone.”.

“This was not a reflection of our customers, but the infrastructure.”

He said the agency that manages the city’s water infrastructure was blindsided by a cascading series of events that culminated in an inoperative water main connected to Poe’s primary water supply line.

“It goes back to some valves that failed several weeks ago,” Raymond said.  “In the course of shutting them down some of the valves failed.”

But, several residents pointed just across the street as an example of how the city prioritizes resources.   Less than a block from Poe Homes stands the Center West apartment complex, a brand new rental development funded in part by an $80 million tax break.

“They never want to come and fix here, they want to build for the tourists,” a young resident named Tezz said.

In fact, some say the new development billed as a “luxury” apartment complex stands in stark contrast to conditions they contend with daily.

“They are building pools inside those apartments,” Tezz noted.  “You have to put two and two together.”

Help for the embattled residents may come with strings attached.

Last year, the Baltimore Business Journal reported that Poe Homes was the recipient a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant is intended to study and prepare for an overhaul of the development, which the city’s housing department hopes to make part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, or RAD.

The program allows private developers to purchase public housing in exchange for making much needed repairs.  Critics have said the program prioritizes profits over well maintained publicly subsidized housing.

“The RAD program is as American as apple pie; use government funds to guarantee profits to the private sector while meeting the needs of 25 percent of those requiring assistance,” Jeff Singer, a professor for the University of Maryland School of Social Work told the AFRO.

Also adding to the anxiety of residents is a ten percent increase in their water bills effective July 1. It is a rate hike they say is ill-timed.

“I don’t think they should do that now,” Shanelle said.