Sharon’s Right to Housing: Public Housing is OUR Housing.

My name is Sharon Jones. Before I moved into Bel Park Tower in 2009 I was living house to house with friends and relatives. I worked for Lexington Market for many years and the pay was not enough to be on my own. So I sign up for Public Housing (a low income based program) in the year 2000 after a failed marriage. In between I became disabled and couldn’t work my job, though I had worked for so long. I would think to myself “What to do now? No job, no money, and not able to pay rent where I laid my head.”

As time passed I was blessed to receive disability but was still in need of a place I could call my own home. So I began to call Housing on a regular basis, and finally I was blessed one more time with my own apartment in Bel Park Tower in 2009. These buildings are in need of a major work over, with bedbugs, mice, roaches, mildew etc. You do the best you can to keep things in working order. In February 2014 I was asked if I would consider running for Tenant Council President at Bel Park Tower, as the president before me had stepped down. I took this as a job the Lord wanted me to do.

Being President not even a year, yet so much has gone on. The Housing Authority applied to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.  Meaning that during this pilot phase, 22 public high-rise buildings will be sold off to private companies. The plan is to do millions of dollars in repairs to the 22 high-rises in two years.  Who’s really paying the price? Housing Authority needs $800 million to restore these buildings around Baltimore and over 4,000 units will be affected by these changes.  We have noticed jobs being replaced, tenants being displaced, planning going on behind the scenes, and when we ask questions, they are brushed off and given no thought. This is our housing, our livelihood, and our safety nets being sold off.

Yes we want our homes renovated. We would love to have all the leaks sealed, all the old paint restored, the elevators to work properly, the total package; just don’t shut us out in the process. We were told rent would remain affordable, yet HUD is working on raising the rent for those who pay flat rent across the board. Baltimore is not LA, so why does rent have to be so high here? What will happen to low-income housing? Is this a bullying tactic?

Though the condition of these buildings are poor, don’t use it as an excuse to sell off our public goods for private profit. Some of these problems could have been avoided if the Housing Commissioner was on his job since being put in office in 2000, in my opinion.

Since the RAD program began to surface, I and other tenant council presidents were told by the Executive Director of the Resident Advisory Board, Ada Cherry-Mahoi, that we should seek legal assistance. After making a few calls, I was connected with organizers at the Right to Housing Alliance. After joining and becoming a member I was later nominated for the Leadership Council. I’m still very new yet I see the vision and pray that we are able to see the day where our Human Rights to housing is no longer violated.