Complaints of Sexual Harassment in Public Housing Go Ignored
A Real News Investigation has found additional allegations of sexual harassment in Baltimore’s public housing system
Taya Graham: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. I’m standing in Perkins Homes, what might be the next battleground for low income people to be able to live in Baltimore’s upscale housing.
But our investigation here has revealed other uncomfortable facts, which shed light on just how difficult life already is for the people who live here.
Speaker 2: The projects is bed bug infested, roach infested. I mean, I just think the government need to put some money in these projects.
Taya Graham: When housing officials first announced they had selected a luxury developer to rebuild Perkins Homes, a low-income housing project near Baltimore’s gleaming inner harbor, there was anxiety among the residents.
Speaker 3: And I am worried because they had said several things and didn’t keep their word.
Taya Graham: But as we explored the lives of the people who live here, other troubling facts emerged.
Speaker 4: But then I started experiencing, in the bathroom and the kitchen, these big, black spots, like in the corner of the bathtub, which was, they say, mold.
Taya Graham: We toured poorly maintained apartments, and heard stories of repairs unfinished. And even more disturbing, allegations of sexual harassment of residents.
Speaker 5: Either they’re trying to get your phone number, they’re trying to have sex with you, they want to charge you for all of these things. It makes you really not even want to call them.
Taya Graham: In fact, The Real News obtained this, a notarized statement from a resident who said she was asked to pay for repairs with sex. She submitted this notarized complaint in 2015, but heard nothing back. So, we asked the Housing Department what happened, and they told us they never received it.
We dug deeper, and we found that since 2016, that 18 sexual harassment complaints have been filed by residents. Complaints the Housing Department would not tell us how they resolved. The notarized statement we obtained is disturbing. The Housing Authority installed a generator because there was no power in half of her house, but it was so loud she and her child couldn’t sleep. The maintenance worker asked for money to remove it, and when she couldn’t pay, he asked for sex.
Quote, “At about four years ago I had a problem with my electricity cutting off in different rooms. I called the maintenance office to see if someone could check it out. The next day he came out with a big generator and stated he was leaving this here overnight to help my lights work better. I could not sleep because it was so loud and noisy. The next day he came back out to my house to pick the machine up, and he said it would cost me $150. I did not have it because it was the end of the month, and I had no more money to pay him. He stated to me, ‘Well, we can have sex to clear this bill up.'” End quote.
This echoes a similar scandal at the city’s Gilmore Homes project, which emerged last year. There, the city settled a lawsuit for six million dollars after at least a dozen residents said they had been asked for sex in exchange for repairs.
Speaker 6: He asked me to send him some pictures. And I asked him … Pictures of my feet. He wanted pictures of my pedicured feet. I felt invaded. I felt disrespected. I let him know I felt disrespected, because I wanted to know what made him think, just because he asked for pictures of my feet, that he should get them.
Taya Graham: This controversy comes amid the news that the city is considering giving the developer of Perkins a massive tax break to rebuild it. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Housing Department is contemplating offering BD Development a TIF, or tax-increment finance deal. It’s a subsidy that allows developers to pump their property taxes back into building and infrastructure, a possibility that didn’t sit well with residents.
Speaker 7: I just hope it be better than how the living conditions is now, because if they gonna get all this money to do, you know, fix up the buildings, fix up the community, and it still looks the way it looks now, then that’s a big concern, because they getting money to fix it so we can live better, so kids can live better.
Taya Graham: BD has benefited from this type of largess before. In 2013, the city gave his firm a 104 million dollar TIF to build the luxury development Harbor East, a property that sits just a half mile from Perkins Homes.
Speaker 8: Do you think a big tax break to a luxury developer is gonna actually help the residents who live here?
Speaker 7: I would really hope so, because that’s what the big move, for real, the big plan. So, I would really hope so that it’s for the community and for the people.
Taya Graham: We asked the city housing authority for comment, and they declined. But despite the talk of big plans and tax breaks for the wealthy, residents here continue to suffer and wonder if a community that showers money on the already rich will continue to ignore their pleas for help.
Speaker 7: I need to be concerned because I don’t really know what’s going on, and what’s gonna happen for me and my kids.
Taya Graham: We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. This is Taya Graham and Steven Jannis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.