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The Latest Word from Middle East

Posted 3/29/2006

I was the president of Save Middle East Action Committee Inc. (SMEAC) for the past two and a half years. I have lived in East Baltimore for almost 22 years and became a volunteer member of SMEAC in 2001 after hearing we were going to be displaced due to the biotech park (The Mail, March 8 and March 22; “Moved and Shaken,” Feb. 22),

The members of this community-driven organization are diversified and believe in working with individuals that believe in social equalities for all people. Our monthly community meetings have always been open to everyone. Our meetings allow members of the community to share concerns, fears, joys, and hopes for all involved. Together this has helped with decisions and directions for the residents as well as the community. SMEAC exists because of these meetings and our sharing and togetherness.

I considered it a privilege to represent the residents and families of this community. Through SMEAC, together we have accomplished the following goals:

  • We won the right to have the geographical restriction lifted, which allows residents to move anywhere in the country with full relocation benefits that includes the supplemental monies from Johns Hopkins and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Residents are actively attending the community-relocation meetings (SMEAC requested they be held on a monthly basis), and also the monthly community-advisory meeting.
  • Residents’ relocation benefits were increased from $22,500 including fair value for their homes to relocation monies and fair-market value. Some renters became new homeowners because of the benefits.
  • A demolition protocol was developed because of SMEAC’s health concern for the community.

The residents of this community are highly motivated and concerned. They should be treated with the utmost respect. Working in a leadership role with this great group of people has given me much inner strength. The residents of East Baltimore are warriors protecting their rights, and they have allowed SMEAC to help.

Lisa Williams
Baltimore

Bloody Mess

I don’t know if it was conveniently overlooked, or just omitted because no one knows it exists, but the Here! cable channel co-produced a film billed as the first gay slasher film last year (“Here, Queer, Dismembered,” Film, March 22). Hellbent made it as far as Washington, D.C., and it was the worst excuse for a film of any genre. The horror aspect was lame, the characters were the worst stereotypes, and in the end it all made absolutely no sense. So, hopefully the people from Grace Haven haven’t made the same mistakes.

Chuck Duncan
Baltimore

A Shot at SCOPE?

Unfortunately, the article that appeared in the March 15 edition of City Paper concerning the SCOPE project contained several inaccuracies (“End of Their SCOPE”). We recognize that the reporter did speak with Deputy Housing Commissioner Michael Bainum to get the city’s perspective on the project, and we feel that Mr. Bainum did an excellent job of attempting to explain the program. However, as representatives of the two other organizations cited in the article as being lead sponsors of the SCOPE project, along with the city, namely the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and the Baltimore Economy and Efficiency Foundation, we are greatly disappointed that the reporter never contacted either of us or our respective organizations to get a better understanding of how the program works, especially since we have been involved with the SCOPE project since the concept stage.

Since its inception, the primary objective of the SCOPE project has been to put city-owned vacant properties back into productive use. Contrary to what the article stated, the city and the SCOPE project have always given a preference to owner-occupant purchasers. The program is open to investors, but in a number of neighborhoods such as Reservoir Hill, when an investor purchases a property, they sign a contract stipulating that the property will be sold to an owner-occupant once the property has been completely rehabbed and is ready for occupancy.

In our opinion, the city does a very thorough job of screening all purchase offers to make certain that the buyers, whether they are investors or owner-rehabbers, are truly qualified and capable of completing the rehabilitation. In addition, all buyers contractually agree to complete the rehab work and obtain an occupancy permit within 18 months of the settlement date. The SCOPE program is designed to prevent speculators from buying properties and then sitting on them for extended periods of time without doing any rehabilitation or improvement and then trying to profit on the resale. As Mr. Bainum stated, SCOPE buyers who do not comply with the program time frames and rehab requirements end up reverting the property back to the city.

Finally, we question the reporter’s judgment in lending credence to Messers Taylor and Vigil’s complaints about the city and the SCOPE project moving too slowly, when he discovered that they themselves had made little or no progress in renovating their own property after residing there for five years. And we are particularly incensed that the reporter gave voice to their criticisms, while waiting till the end of the article to expose their own hypocrisy and the fact that they (Taylor and Vigil) sold their property for a hefty profit to the kind of investor they vilify as being bad for the neighborhood.

The SCOPE project is attempting to improve neighborhood conditions by bringing in serious homeowners and investors who will make tangible improvements in these vacant houses under a contractual mandate. And it would seem that, despite Taylor and Vigil’s gripes, their success in selling their house for the price they got is a clear indication that SCOPE has helped to enhance the marketability and appeal of the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.

Joseph T. “Jody” Landers, III
President, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors

David B. Rudow
Founder, Baltimore Economy and Efficiency Foundation
Baltimore

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: I regret that I did not interview Mr. Landers or Mr. Rudow before publishing, but they don’t support their claim of “inaccuracies.” SCOPE may be well-meaning and, even with its flaws, arguably better than previous programs, but as of my deadline, no SCOPE properties had reverted to the city, despite several appearing unrenovated long after the 18-month deadline. And, notwithstanding SCOPE’s “preference [for] owner-occupant purchasers,” estimated rehab costs listed for SCOPE properties have routinely been much higher than actual costs incurred by private rehabbers working on similar properties—including those rare ones who pull permits and claim to employ licensed tradespeople.

More Trash Talk

If you parse the recycling tonages reported in Department of Public Works Director George Winfield’s letter to City Paper (“Too Bad We Can’t Recycle Bullet Points,” The Mail, March 15), you’ll see immediately just how feeble the city’s recycling program really is.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau figure puts Baltimore’s population at 635,815. Winfield’s year-2005 recycled paper figure of 9,506 tons breaks down to a grand total of 29.9 pounds per person. I can’t imagine the city’s per capita paper consumption is any less than 10 times that figure. His figure of 2,144 tons of bottles, cans, and jars equals a pathetic 6.75 pounds per person for all of 2005. That’s probably what one person uses every two weeks.

What happened to the other 50 weeks of bottles, cans, and jars? Presumably, they’re beyond redemption, buried in the city dump.

In addition to the above figures, my own block in Waverly offers an object lesson on the feebleness of the city’s recycling program. Of the 77 rowhouses on my block, no more than 10 ever put out anything on recycling pickup days. So much for the effectiveness of Mr. Winfield’s vaunted, annually mailed, citywide recycling calendar!

In the last analysis, the feebleness of its recycling effort just confirms my general opinion of Baltimore’s city government—that it just doesn’t dot its i’s nor cross its t’s, that it lets most of the important, 21st-century quality-of-life details simply fall through the cracks.

Herman M. Heyn
Baltimore

Quitting Smoking—the Hard Way

In “Smoke Break” (March 8), Emily Flake asks, “Who will I be if I stop smoking?”

I’m sure every person’s experience is different, but my 47-year-old mother quit three months ago after a lifetime of smoking, and I am willing to share some insights into her new identity. Ms Flake is right to be concerned, as my mother no longer is the woman she used to be.

She’s traded in her busy social life and hobbies for weekly doctors visits and naps on the couch. Instead of sitting around smoking cigarettes, my mum spends hours in an armchair in a room full of other people getting chemotherapy. She’s the only one in the room under 60 and without gray hair—not that you can tell anymore. She lost all her hair after the first treatment. Take that, vanity!

I guess you could say quitting smoking made everything in her life so much more significant. For the first time since I left for college, I’ve spent her birthday and mine with her. I’ll fly down to be with her on Mother’s Day, too, never saying on my trips that each one could be our last together.

Like Ms. Flake, my mother knew she was at risk for lung cancer. Maybe she thought, “Fuck my lungs,” too. I can tell you she didn’t know how very deadly lung cancer is; according to the American Cancer Society, there’s a less than 50 percent chance my mother will make it to my 29th birthday.

When she was 21, Ms. Flake foresaw “oceans of time” ’til she was 29. I’ll be marking that birthday in fewer than 400 days—a stretch to be filled with weekly doctor’s appointments; various scans; blood-work results; more, more, more chemotherapy, followed maybe by radiation or surgery; and certainly by a fair share of anxiety, tears, and anger—but my attitude is exactly the same as Ms. Flake’s: “That’s so long from now it may as well be never.”

Angelique Weger
Baltimore

We Also Feature Genetically Modified Commentary

This is truly a time of wonders, with great leaps in nanotechnology occurring virtually on a daily basis. I’d like to especially applaud the efforts of City Paper, which is bravely leading the way in the nanoprinting of comics. As one of the lucky few with access to an electron microscope, I can tell other less fortunate readers how truly delightful Maakies, The Perry Bible Fellowship, and Lulu Eightball are when you can actually read the text. Don’t worry about Shabby Tabby, though—you aren’t missing a thing. Again, mad props for such a bold scientific endeavor.

John Irvine
Catonsville

Editor’s Note: Staff writer Christina Royster-Hemby won honorable mention as part of the 32nd annual A.D. Emmart Award for her profile of Soulful Symphony maestro Darrin Atwater (“Evening the Score,” May 11, 2005). The Emmart was established to laud “writing in the humanities” and named in honor of the late Sun scribe. Congratulations, Christina.

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