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Falling Down

Posted 8/9/2006

I have been enjoying City Paper since I moved to Baltimore over two years ago. The article you wrote on the situation with neglected housing in the city was the best I have ever read ("Collapse, Part 1," July 26). I canít wait for the next article. Keep up the good work.

Fred Drummond

With a little more due diligence on the part of reporter Edward Ericson Jr., your feature on Baltimore Cityís demolition program could have been a little more accurate and a lot more relevant to the policy questions the city faces over these buildings.

The story refers to multiple notices to owners of properties identified for demolition, suggesting that this is an indication of ineptness. In fact, if ownership changes hands before a building is razed, the new owner must be provided notice and the opportunity to cure the problem. The round of notices that went out in early 2003 was part of a concerted effort by the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development to clean up its demolition list. As the report states, some of the properties had been on the list for over a decade. Ownership of some of them had changed several times. They were all reinspected, and the renotification effort was intended to shore up the cityís legal authority to take them down. Once that was done, we attempted to prioritize the list.

The story also seems to suggest that the reason demolition prices have gone up so much is because the city got out of that business and now contracts with private firms who charge more. The cost/benefit analysis that was done prior to the change in practice showed that at least 20 percent of the cost of demolitions was attributable to tipping fees, fees that up until that point the Housing Department did not have to pay. When tipping fees were added into the equation, HABCo, the cityís demolition unit, could not compete with the private vendors. (Incidentally, for a newspaper that constantly berates city agencies for ineffectiveness and inefficiency, itís astounding that you would suggest that the agency should engage in the business of demolition itself.)

Finally, the story states that I "said no" to Kathleen Kortarbaís request to use city funds to stabilize 4 S. Gilmore St. In fact, the circumstances around that collapse led me to establish a $100,000 per year fund for the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) to use to stabilize historic properties in lieu of demolition. We gave CHAP all the decision-making authority on which buildings to fund. 4 S. Gilmore was its first project. I believe that program is still in place today, though it is now funded by the city Planning Department, not Housing.

The bottom line is that the city has a demolition budget of about $3 million per year, and to demolish all the buildings it would like to demolish it would need much more than that.

The real question City Paper (and all of us as city residents) should be asking is, are these demolitions more important than other capital needs facing the city?

Streets, schools, affordable housing, water treatment, parks, and community health centers all compete for the same pool of limited capital dollars at the cityís disposal. Without the context of these other needs, blasting away at the city for not doing more demolitions is disingenuous.

Douglass Austin

The writer is a former deputy commissioner for development at the city Department of Housing and Community Development.

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: I exercised as much diligence as I could; city records are a mess, and city officials were not eager to talk. As for the problem of tracking building ownership, I sympathize, yet other cities seem to manage the task. Baltimore has seen more than 100 buildings collapse during the past three years, while Philadelphia--another big city with a lot of abandoned houses--had none. Michael Braverman, the Housing Departmentís deputy commissioner for code enforcement, insists that budget constraints arenít an issue. Are demolitions of unstable buildings more important than other civic problems? Arguably not. Then again, maybe Mr. Austin would like to address that question again when a collapsing house kills somebody.

Donít Count Him Out

Luckily for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, he doesnít have to give a tinkerís damn about what Brian Morton spews about him (Political Animal, July 26). Luckily for the state of Maryland, we have a stellar leader and a true caring person of this state who is in charge of the stateís purse stings.

Mr. Morton espouses on the comptroller supposedly offending the Hispanic community rather than talking about how many in the Hispanic community have offended us Marylanders by not caring enough to learn to speak English, collecting welfare, tying up and draining and costing our hospitals schools, etc., or to vent against the huge corporation that doesnít care enough about its customers or potential customers to put a person on the front lines who canít speak English well enough to be understood.

He then prattles on about Schaeferís so-called decline of mental prowess by not debating Janet Owens, as though there would be so much to gain by boring us to tears with a debate on finance or a cake recipe.

Noticeably missing from his weak rant were any mistakes that the comptroller has made concerning his job performance. You know, what we elected him to do. Not one thing about what the comptroller is responsible for and has failed in was mentioned. Wonder why that is.

I personally think that Mr. Schaefer has done a fine job in his post and is also a fine, upstanding man. Is he outspoken? Yes. Does he say what is on his mind? Yes, and I love it. Iíd much rather have someone be direct and honest with me than the opposite.

Iíd much rather know a man than know his act. And Schaefer doesnít have an act--he is what he is, the real deal. I trust Mr. Schaefer with my tax money, and Iíd trust him with my daughters visiting him, alone. And I, for one, love him for not being P.C., which is but a waste of time, plastic, and phony.

He has done so much for the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, more than we remember or will know. Luckily, for all of us Marylanders, too.

Bob Hill

ACORN: Katrina Victim

We were very disappointed to see Van Smithís article about the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now ("Do-Gooder Blues," Mobtown Beat, July 26). No organization is perfect, and ACORN works hard to ensure that all of our employees get paid on time. That said, we feel that Mr. Smithís article was unfair in that it did not take into account the scope of operations that ACORN manages on a shoestring budget. Just in the last five years, we have tested over 500 properties for lead, helped over 4,000 low-income first-time homebuyers get the mortgage loans they need, and registered close to 50,000 people to vote, to say nothing of the victories that our membership has won in their local neighborhoods. It should be noted that our headquarters in New Orleans was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, along with the homes and possessions of almost all the staff members in charge of managing our payroll. This should have been taken seriously in the article, as our entire payroll department was wiped out in one week. Any article written about ACORN and its work should take into account the outstanding contribution ACORN is making in its commitment to improve living conditions for low- and moderate-income people.

Rev. Gloria Swieringa
Chair, Maryland ACORN

Great White Hopes

Why wasnít anyone from Wounds crew (Height, Bow ní Arrow, Jones, Shields) included in the "Baltimore Hip-Hop Trading Cards" (Big Music Issue, July 19)? Are they too white to be counted as rap? Is City Paper gonna come out with Baltimore White Rap Trading Cards next year? I want my Plural MC trading card, goddammit!

Ann Everton

The writer is a member of the Girl Island/Omega Three artistsí collective.

Nice Shot

In reference to the photo in the July 19 issue taken by Jefferson Jackson Steele: What a picture. Two women, garters ready to receive the attention paid in crumpled dollar bills. A lithe body and a rotund figure are the focus. Regardless of who else was present at that moment, the photograph captured the collectors of attention. The more spastic the movements, the more they were gawked at and commanded to perform exhibitions of flexibility and jerking.

When did these women turn into women capable of turning debauchery into power? Do they control their lives? Do any of us really control anything? Are they any different from the rest of us? I think pictures of these "types" of people arrest us and charge us with judging people without knowing them. We condemn them to serve the sentence of our negative words. The only way we are freed is by looking deeper. Someone calls the women in the picture "daughter" or "mommy." Someone with the courage and respect to discover what is beneath the thighs and breasts possibly calls her "my love" or "beautiful."

Humans are more than their function in the work force. It is important that we realize that. I would love to see a special report on these women who are in the darkness of the public view and in the margin of society. I am trying to do my own research, but I lack the resources that you have at City Paper. I respect your ability to report and make us aware of the alternatives.

Terrence Gooden

Still in Saigon

You say that Saigon Remembered is a really bad place and say the food is bad (Omnivore, July 12). But you are wrong and the restaurant is actually really good. The paper says bad thing about this really good restaurant. I really like the paintings on the wall.

Jenna Kim-Hue Jones

See a copy of Jenna's letter

I like this restaurant the best of all the ones Iíve been to. The shrimp is the best.

Nguyen Bau Liang (age 7)

See a copy of Nguyen's letter

No Film-School Highbrows Here

How can it be that, after recently reading every horror movie review on your site (by multiple reviewers), I agree with every one. I have seen pretty much every horror movie made (my wife indulges me), and your writers have as encyclopedic a memory for horror films as me. Bravo to your paper for employing real people instead of pretentious film-school highbrows (that would be Stephen Hunter). Keep up the good work.

Kent Baker
Dumfries, Va.

Correction: We earn the booby prize for a couple of mistakes in our review of Reddleman Theaterís production of The Seagull ("Try and Try Again," Stage, Aug. 2). Konstantinís mother is Arkadina, played by Nicole Nelson, not Polina, played by Liz Elkridge. Also, Nelson and Michael Avolio (as Trigorin) were depicted in the photograph accompanying the piece, not Branda Lock and Zachary Palamara. City Paper regrets the errors.

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