Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano and four of his top officials at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) on Monday afternoon met with a group of three public-housing residents and activists, who called for him to commit to resolving a long list of grievances about substandard living conditions and harassment by HABC workers.
A group of about a dozen other residents and community organizers, who were not allowed into the meeting, stood outside HABC headquarters on Fayette Street, waving signs and chanting "Stop intimidation!"
Graziano has come under fire in recent weeks after seven public housing residents filed a suit alleging HABC ignored widespread cases of sexual abuse by maintenance men who plaintiffs say have been extorting sex in exchange for vital repairs to housing units. According to representatives with Communities United, the group that coordinated Monday's meeting, residents of Gilmor Homes, the project at the epicenter of the scandal, expressed anger this weekend when they learned of the firing of Lucky Crosby, a senior maintenance worker and union official who they say had tried to bring their plight to the attention of HABC officials.
Earlier in the month, residents of the Lakeview Towers near Druid Hill Park spent several days without water or heat, leading to street protests and forcing elderly and disabled residents to spend two nights in a hotel.
Emerging from the meeting, Communities United organizer John Comer said that Graziano had promised to meet a long list of demands for repairs and improvements to the city's various public housing projects, a list that covers everything from asbestos removal to bed bugs to landscaping.
Graziano did not give specifics on how soon these improvements would be made or how they would be paid for, Comer said.
"Promises are a dime a dozen, and there are residents here who need justice," he said.
On the issue of the sexual-assault suit, Comer said Graziano was unable to address specific allegations with the lawsuit pending, but promised a "system of accountability" would be put in place.
"The problem is, this has been going on way too long. And so now you're trying to put a Band-Aid on a deep wound. So now, when the people rise up, and you ask the people to be patient, they're not going to be patient, they've been patient long enough," Comer said.
Comer said that the one specific measure Graziano had committed to was a series of site visits by HABC officials who would spend three hours at each public housing development fielding questions and listening to the residents' issues.
Demonstrators appeared unsatisfied by the proposed measures, chanting, "He's got to go!"
Speaking on the issue of Crosby's firing, Comer said that he hoped today's demonstration would draw attention to Crosby's good work in the community and the seeming injustice of his termination.
"We feel that he was terminated due to a retaliatory move, and the residents of Gilmor Homes know that he's a great man and he needs his job back," Comer said.
Demonstrators chanted "Bring Lucky back" as Crosby stepped forward to address the press.
Referring by name to Deputy Executive Director Anthony Scott and Chief of Staff Kim Washington, two of the HABC officials who had just attended the meeting upstairs, Crosby said that the entire top tier of the organization should be cleared out.
"It's no secret what's been going on at the Baltimore City Housing Authority, we have no leadership. Cutting off the head of the snake is not enough, all of Graziano's people must go," Crosby said.
Crosby also took aim at what he sees as the inequalities in how the city allocates resources to build housing for its most affluent versus its most vulnerable citizens.
"The residents of public housing are human beings, and they should be treated as such," he said.