This is a photo essay that highlights resident experience before, during, and after a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion, a program of the Office of Recapitalization in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The information below includes actual quotes by residents, an honest accounting of what it is like to live in a property that goes through a RAD.
Our team meets on the 14th floor of Lakeview Tower with members of the Baltimore Housing's Resident Advisory Board (RAB); Mr. Wallace Craig (a resident for 17 years), Ms. Sharon Jones (a 31 year resident of Bel-Park Towers, another completed RAD project), and Ms. Ella Broadway (President of the RAB and not a RAD resident). This apartment complex is a nearly completed RAD project in northern Baltimore.
Looking around the space, it is hard to imagine what it may have been like before the renovations. Everything is clean, bright, and open in the community room – complete with an incredible, birds-eye view of Baltimore that spans a full 180 degrees.
This place is so beautiful right now; what were the issues here before the renovation? We ask them, starting off our conversation in the community room before begining our tour of the building.
“There were many, many challenges,” Wallace says, shaking his head. “We often had a lack of hot water and sometimes there was no water at all. Just as frequently were HVAC problems; no heat some days, or air conditioning other days – and Baltimore has weather. We had plumbing problems, elevators going out all the time – the property was just ageing and systems failing, and nothing was being done about it.” Later, as we step into an elevator on a tour of the building, he points up at a security camera in the corner.
“That’s another improvement. Used to be all kinds of things happened in here, but now we have cameras and can monitor, it is cleaner and safer.”
“We often had the same problems, especially water and heating/air,” Ms. Jones agrees.
So when you heard things would be changing and the place would be improved, how did you feel about it? It seems like there were some great improvements coming your way.
“Well actually, I protested it,” Ms. Jones comments. “I thought it was just for rich people.”
“We were really angry. But we started a committee – the Resident Advisory Board (RAB)—for people in buildings throughout the city to talk and share concerns.”
“Yes, people in buildings like ours, we’re not really conditioned for change, so something like this causes us to be very apprehensive. We didn’t believe that they were really going to do what they said, and when we did, we had to convince other people,” Wallace adds. “I had no idea what RAD was. I did the research; I educated myself about it; but not everyone is going to – or able to – do that. So, we started this committee."
What would you recommend to RAD developers or housing authorities, then, based on your own experiences?
“You know, we found that the process was a learning curve for them, too, and being aware of that going in is good,” Wallace notes.
“Yes, and for everyone. It is just good to know what to expect, and we definitely did not,” Jones adds.
“You have to change the mindset of people who ask, ‘When are we going to be put out,' too. It’s a huge fear. And once the project starts, it is only the beginning. My residents – our residents – have gone through a lot. At one point, we got new boilers, and of course, they were supposed to work. But there was no pressure, and then there was too much pressure. So, we took it back to the director of the project, we got it fixed.”
“As leaders within our developments, we went to weekly management meetings and construction meetings. We went to them to be knowledgeable, and sometimes we advised about the project, things like, ‘Well, that’s not good material for a place like this,’ and explaining why. Sometimes they try to be cost effective but it is at the detriment of people like us or it just wouldn’t work for us. And we let them know, it’s better to do it right the first time, because if it isn’t and causes problems—and in those cases, it would be bound to cause problems—we say, 'We’ll hold you accountable. We’ll sue if we have to.’ And so, they learn, too, and we don’t usually have to say something like that. We aren’t asking for extravagance; we’re asking for respect. This is not housing of the last resort."
Was there anything you think could have been done differently?
“The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) did the best they could with what they had. We’ve lost so much public housing, and there's so much homelessness here in Baltimore…” Broadway answers. "You have families out there who are homeless, or kids – the worst thing is when you send your kid out in the world because you can’t support them at home or your home can’t support you all. All this comes and you’re just trying to survive, you do the best you can. Decisions for projects like these often come from the top – and well, the people there are alright, but what about us? People really wonder that. We all wondered that, and we stepped up and took on these issues.”
What did you anticipate or hope for upon completion?
“Heat and hot water. It’s all most people want. It’s all I need. But now, you know, we hear things from residents like, 'Oh, I didn’t know my child could live like this!' And that is wonderful,” Broadway says, smiling.
“Yes,” Wallace agrees,” all we really want is that and to be treated with respect and dignity. And this is what we’re working toward with the RAB. Whatever your situation, your background, we don’t judge. These people have gone through a lot.”
"HABC stepped up and said 'We got you.' Thank you for the renovations," he says, smiling, and both Jones and Broadway nod and smile in agreement. "Thank you, because the buildings were falling apart."
“I’d like them to stop tearing buildings down and start building more housing like this so teenagers living under the bridge because their families had to put them out, and the homeless down the street, can have homes again, too,” Jones adds.
We all leave the community room so they can show us around the renovated building. The thought and time that went into the changes are clear.
While there is a neatly organized mailroom on the first floor, packages and prescriptions are delivered to the apartment doors of those facing accessibility issues or who are otherwise unable to leave their homes.
Lakeview Tower Extension is a 14-story high rise building located in the Reservoir Hill/Bolton Hill neighborhood and overlooks Druid Hill Park and Lake. The building was constructed in 1980 with 144 apartments, consisting of efficiencies and one-bedrooms. There are 12 fully compliant UFAS units.
This $30 M transaction included a 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and a private mortgage. These funds allowed Lakeview Tower to replace the kitchens in every apartment, replace flooring and bathrooms. Outdated HVAC and Elevator systems were replaced and numerous other improvements.
Other renovations include in-house laundry rooms complete with washers, driers, tables, and farmer sinks; a health office, computer lab, multiple community rooms and accompanying kitchens; elevators, bathrooms, and many other spaces clearly designed with accessibility needs in mind; and a lounge with couches, books, and games where residents can spend time together in community.