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Public housing residents hold up signs prior to demonstrating outside the offices of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City on Oct. 26. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

A union official has been fired from his job with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) in what he, advocates, and residents are calling a retaliatory firing for daring to speak openly about the conditions and sex abuse at public housing properties.

On Oct. 26, HABC executive director Paul Graziano met with two public housing residents, Rochelle Barksdale and Camay Owens, and the co-director and head organizer for Communities United, John Comer, who has been organizing public housing residents since 2012. The residents presented Graziano with a list of demands that included the extermination of rats, mice, and other pests, the replacing of broken windows and door locks, as well as the repair of broken heating units before the winter cold fully sets in.

At a press conference after the meeting, Comer added that residents also demand that Lucky Crosby, health and safety officer for AFSCME Local 647, and, until Oct. 21, a maintenance mechanic at public housing properties for HABC, be reinstated after he was let go in what many are calling a retaliatory firing over Crosby’s at times public outspokenness regarding the deplorable living conditions at public housing properties in Baltimore as well as the sex abuse taking place there.

Crosby arrived at his home on the evening of Oct. 21, to find a termination notice from HABC taped to his front door. Crosby had been suspended as of Oct. 9 over a verbal altercation with another maintenance worker that took place on Oct. 5, but which union officials, including AFSCME Local 647 president Anthony Coates, had called a pretext to punish Crosby for his outspokenness over the living conditions and allegations of sexual abuse at Gilmor Homes and other HABC properties.

The {AFRO} has reported widely on both the living conditions and claims of sex abuse at Gilmor since last July. According to one public housing resident who preferred not to be named but was demonstrating outside the HABC office building as Barksdale, Comer, and Owens met inside, “I don’t have heat. I have to use my oven to warm up my house; we have blankets and everything. They say I can’t use my dryer, I’ve gotta unplug my microwave. I shouldn’t have to do those things if the wiring was appropriate.”

Another demonstrator said her name was Stephanie but did not want her last name used and who also says she lives in Gilmor, said she was promised a larger unit within three months of moving in. That was three years ago, and the problems inside her unit have forced her grandchildren to take residence with their other grandparents.

“When it’s in the winter, it’s like being outside. Children should not have to double up on quilts side the house. The window’s coming out . I’ve been trying to get them to fix my unit since I’ve been there, and I’ve been there going on three years, and I didn’t know this has been going on there for years,” said Stephanie.

The residents and organizers who met with Graziano on Oct. 26 were hoping to receive a firm timeline for the completion of all repairs in the public housing units, but said they did not receive one. Comer also said that the sex abuse allegations were discussed at the meeting, though Graziano was limited in his ability to comment due to the lawsuit filed in late September by attorneys Cary Hansel and Annie Hirsch, on behalf of what are now 11 female public housing residents over the abuse.

Crosby spoke at the press conference that took place after the meeting, addressing the living conditions in Baltimore’s public housing.

“I have worked in every development in housing, and they all are horrible because of the conditions that are allowed to fester.  You have low staff, you have no moral among the , you have no materials .  In cases you’re putting a band-aid on a bullet wound, you cannot have that,” said Crosby, adding later, regarding the sex abuse claims and HABC’s response, “If they were Caucasian women, would we allow this?”