An Insider’s Look at Baltimore’s Dysfunctional Housing Authority
In part two, fired veteran public housing worker Lucky Crosby discusses how the lack of accountability has fueled neglect and deplorable conditions in Baltimore’s public housing
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m a reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m joined here today by Lucky Crosby. We’re discussing problems in the city’s Housing Authority. Specifically, a scandal involving a sex-for-repairs scheme in Gilmor Homes. Mr. Crosby was a whistleblower, but he was fired. And today we’re discussing the circumstances surrounding his firing and the future of Paul Graziano, the city’s Housing Authority department leader.
Now, many people have called for Mr. Graziano’s resignation, including multiple mayoral candidates. But the mayor has said she wouldn’t fire Graziano regardless. What do you think, why do you think there’s still support for him within the mayoral administration, given the fact that there seems to be widespread call for his dismissal?
LUCKY CROSBY: He’s a great fundraiser.
JANIS: Meaning what?
CROSBY: I think most mayoral candidates and most sitting mayors need the executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the commissioner of housing and urban affairs to be friendly to them, and I’m quite sure Mr. Graziano is a great fundraiser, with all the development going on in this city at Harbor East.
JANIS: So you’re saying that basically the Housing Authority, which is supposed to be, really, maintaining low-income housing, is actually intimately involved in trying to develop non-low income housing. Is that what you’re–.
CROSBY: I would say the history of Mr. Graziano being here for 15 years will bear that to be true. And that the development is not going uptown, it’s going downtown.
JANIS: Right. And we were talking about, now their plans are to take Perkins Homes, and what are they going to do with Perkins Homes, do we know?
CROSBY: Well, we’ve been hearing rumors that they’re going to develop it into $300,000-400,000 lakefront property.
JANIS: All right. So meanwhile, you–now, let’s get back to what happened in terms of your dismissal. So you were, you were re-hired. You’re given this settlement agreement to sign, right.
CROSBY: Yes, I was given the settlement.
JANIS: Right. And basically, what did the settlement agreement say?
CROSBY: Well, basically to me, and to my brothers and sisters [inaud] 647 for me to give up all of my rights, to be a nice little employee, go away and be quiet and not report about these deplorable conditions of the residents of Baltimore City.
JANIS: Now, they fired you the same day they fired some of the gentlemen who had been accused of, of purveying this sex for repairs scheme in Gilmor Homes. Do you think that was another way of trying to discredit you?
CROSBY: Oh that’s very, that’s very–that very much so is the truth. You had to understand, I have been outspoken against Mr. Graziano and his administration for at least five to seven years. So to do that, again, this is how housing has scraped the bottom of the barrel to try to make it look like that I was involved in the sexual misconduct, allegedly, at Gilmor Homes.
JANIS: Mr. Graziano had a story in the Sun this weekend where he defended his tenure and said, you know, it’s not my fault that these repairs aren’t made. It’s the fact that the federal government isn’t giving me enough money. Do you think that’s a fair characterization of what’s really going on? Is it about federal money, or is it something else?
CROSBY: I think it’s about the lack of leadership. And I think that Mr. Graziano has got full of himself, and Mr. Graziano has forgot what he was appointed to do. And he has lost touch. We, I have been on the executive committee for [inaud.] since maybe 2007. We have never had a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Graziano.
JANIS: Do you feel like the union has supported you in your struggles?
CROSBY: Well, I feel that the Local 647 has supported me 100 percent. But if you ask me, have the council, the council , absolutely not.
JANIS: Well, from a big picture perspective, what is the condition of the city’s affordable housing? I mean, overall.
CROSBY: Overall I think we are in a bad place because of the lack of leadership. Let me just say, when you’re talking about in the city, when you have 47,000 vacant units, and 75,000-plus persons waiting on a subsidized housing list, and the commissioner continues not to deal with the problem, when you have 11,000 units, and actually less than 400 employees doing maintenance on the units, the conditions are horrible and terrible.
JANIS: Now, Graziano again mentioned–he said privatization is going to save public housing. I mean, that’s the plan, right. They’re going to try to sort of, sort of privatize by allowing, by selling ground rent leases, I think is what it is. Will privatization, is that the answer?
CROSBY: No, I don’t think so. I think, when you throw out figures like you need $800 million to renovate public housing, and then you put figures like $350 million you’re getting from selling the first phase of RAD, now we’re in the second phase and no money has [inaud.]. And that’s [with their] privatization.
JANIS: And RAD is a privatization program, just so people know.
CROSBY: Yes it is. When you have structures that were built 1937, and you haven’t had proper infrastructure like replacing the plumbing, replacing the heating units, then you have Mr. Graziano who has sat back for so long while we were putting band-aids on bullet wounds. Now you have the problem, and now he’s trying to act like he was in the forefront of the privatization. He’s in the forefront of that because that’s venture capitalism, and they’re going to put a lot of money in non-Baltimore City residents’ pockets.
JANIS: That’s something I was wondering about. These people, these companies that are putting private money to, into the public housing, what are they–I mean, they’re going to want something for this, right? What do you think they’re going to get out of this?
CROSBY: I think, I think–let’s say for instance, Lakeview. If you remember a few weeks ago, they had no heat, they had no water. Lakeview sits on prime real estate. Across from Druid Park, across from the lake. So you mean to tell me you’re going to put let’s say $40 million in there and still charge the residents their current value or rate? I don’t think so. I think you’re going to displace them, bring in a higher salary grossing people, and those public housing residents who need the service are never going to get back into Lakeview.
JANIS: Now, another thing that came up in the Sun article which is interesting was the tenants’ board did vote that they wanted to keep Graziano, and we were talking about this before, in terms of saying that, you know, they wanted him to keep his job. But you were saying that that, that really doesn’t mean much. What is the problem with that?
CROSBY: I hate to say it, but it really doesn’t mean nothing. If you go to the developments and you speak to the residents, not this appointed board and this board who’s sitting meeting with Anthony Scott and the board of commissioners and really have no say, the decisions are made without input from this advisory council, resident-driven board. So when you say–and let’s put it like this. How can anyone defend Graziano staying in his current position?
JANIS: I mean, I don’t know. The other thing, too, with the privatization, won’t that mean the loss of the union jobs?
CROSBY: You’ve got to look at it, I think just where–my resentment comes from the council. I have been out front against the privatization of the high rises because of the potential lack of 200 employees that will be lost.
JANIS: And they’re going to just–they’ll just hire employees privately. They won’t have union protection.
CROSBY: Right. The union won’t be in none of these buildings that are being privatized. And the offer wasn’t even offered by Mr. Graziano to the development to take the union to the building, like was the standard real estate practice.
JANIS: Just out of curiosity, how much does an average maintenance worker make? I mean, what is an average salary of a maintenance–.
CROSBY $13.00 an hour.
JANIS: So it’s really, I mean, a high-paid job.
CROSBY: Let’s put it like this. We’re the fifth-largest housing authority in the United States of America. We are the lowest-paid maintenance employees by far. But we have the top-paid executive in the housing authorities.
JANIS: You mean in terms of Graziano.
CROSBY; I’m talking about Graziano.
JANIS: Because Graziano’s salary is $220,000.
CROSBY: And the chief of staff. And you’ve got to realize, see, people even get them mixed up. He gets $220,000 from HABC. But he gets another six figures from housing and urban development, which he’s the commissioner on the Baltimore City side.
JANIS: So how is it possible you have $13.00 an hour workers with someone making $220,000 or $300,000? How is that possible? I don’t understand.
CROSBY: Because I think before–.
JANIS: I mean, you have a union. Wouldn’t you guys demand more money?
CROSBY: Right. We have demanded more money. But still the people, in my opinion, who have been negotiating for Local 647, their interest is to protect the Housing Authority and not to protect the interests of its employees. Like, we are told when we asked for a 7 percent raise that we’re only getting 2 [percent]. I mean, I don’t think it’s even proposed to the Housing Authority.
JANIS: I mean, because $13.00 an hour is what, $30,000, or it’s not even–.
CROSBY: Less. It’s less than $30,000.
JANIS: It’s about $26–. And so that’s a medium range for the–.
CROSBY: Right. I’m giving you a medium range, because we average from $13.00 an hour up to $20.00.
JANIS: So the highest is $20.00.
CROSBY: Right. The highest is $20.00.
JANIS: Not including overtime, or something.
CROSBY: Right. But again, when you’ve got tradesmen, $20.00 is low.
JANIS: Yeah. Well no, that’s actually–I’m surprised you’re able to keep employees given the fact that it’s–.
CROSBY: You’re not. The draw was our insurance. But Mr. Graziano is digging into that.
JANIS: So there was health insurance, but now that’s–.
CROSBY: Health insurance, pension. Some of their perks.
JANIS: Right. So given that, all that, the conditions in terms of–what’s some of the things that you’ve seen going through these apartments, and what have you seen that’s really shocked you?
CROSBY: I wouldn’t say–the most shocking story I tell to everyone, I was at Westport, Mt. Winans. I was the maintenance mechanic there. I was given some white electrical tape to put on a door seal. The door seal, it has a magnet in it. The magnet keeps the door shut. So once the magnet–once the little rubberized seal gets bad, you just replace the seal. Four or five dollars. But the supervisor gave me electrical tape and told me to go. And I had an objection to it, so I said no. But when a young woman went to her refrigerator and took out a carton of milk, and as she dumped the milk on her child’s cereal the roaches fell out of the milk on the cereal. She was so embarrassed, she apologized to me for seeing it.
So how in good conscience I can put electrical tape on the door seal? By the way, I was disciplined for bringing that up.
JANIS: So cockroaches came out of the milk and their cereal.
CROSBY: Went into the cereal.
JANIS: Because the refrigerator wasn’t sealed.
CROSBY: Because the refrigerator should have been replaced.
JANIS: Should have been replaced. And so all these people, you’re talking about thousands and thousands of families, are living in similar conditions.
CROSBY: Similar conditions.
JANIS: And how does the Housing Authority explain this? I mean, what do they do when you–so this is partly why you’ve had trouble. Because you–.
CROSBY: Exactly. Because I was outspoken about these health and safety conditions. So therefore I’ve been transferred 14 times against a contract because I spoke up against housing having no leadership.
JANIS: So now, going forward, what’s going to happen with your job? I mean, do you know?
CROSBY: Well, again, there’s a grievance process which I’m not very confident in. But then also arbitration. And the sad thing in the arbitration hearing, I would have to be represented by [council 67]. But there is a lawyer in the house. His name is J. Wyndal Gordon, my private attorney, that is looking at all of this. And once the union play out, if I don’t receive my job back, my back pay, and a letter of apology from the Baltimore City Housing Authority, I will take legal recourse.
JANIS: So, last question. Are you going to sign this?
CROSBY: Not at all. I would never sign that. Nor would I advise any member of Local 647 to sign that.
JANIS: They do say here they’re going to treat you fairly and give you full opportunity, as if that was something that didn’t happen before. I mean, that makes me kind of laugh.
CROSBY: I think you got the gist of it, that it didn’t. It has not happened yet.
JANIS: So they had to stipulate it because they haven’t been–so they’re basically saying we weren’t treating you fairly, but now we promise.
JANIS: Well, Mr. Crosby, we appreciate you speaking out, and we appreciate you being willing to share with us all this information about housing.
CROSBY: Just one more thing.
CROSBY: Without a labor commissioner that has authority over the Baltimore City Housing Authority, we are doomed to fail. Case in point: how can Carla Walton conduct the investigations and the hearing on what allegedly transpired at Gilmor Homes when she was notified and she’s being investigated by the federal government?
JANIS: So you know she’s being investigated.
CROSBY: Yes, indeed.
JANIS: Okay. Well listen, we really appreciate you being, you know, coming forward. And we wish you the best of luck, and you know, we hope you get your job back. All right, thank you.
CROSBY: Thank you. I appreciate it.
JANIS: All right. My name is Stephen Janis. I’m an investigative reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you for joining us.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.