O’Donnell Heights residents to unveil Declaration of Redevelopment

Addressing the lack of affordable housing in Baltimore City, the O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council will release its Declaration of Redevelopment at Save Our Homes!, a community forum Wednesday, Sept. 9. The free event is open to all public housing residents and housing advocates in Baltimore.

“This will be the first time a residents council has attempted to reach out to members of the housing advocacy community,” said Gregory Countess, assistant director of advocacy for housing and community economic development at Maryland Legal Aid. “The declaration presents a set of principles that folks should adopt to address the issues faced by public housing residents—principles that should be enacted by public officials.”

Residents of O’Donnell Heights—public housing located on Baltimore’s east side near Dundalk and major interstate highways—have been wrestling with redevelopment issues for the last decade. Out of 900 housing units in the development, about 600 have been demolished. The city is currently putting together a redevelopment plan for the community.

“The residents don’t believe their voices are being heard in the redevelopment process,” said Countess, who represents the tenant council. “It’s particularly important because the current plans don’t rebuild the community for them. It leaves a lot fewer units then it had before.

“It was a community with problems—but still a community,” Countess added. “They’ve got the right to return. But under the current plan, that promise can’t be fulfilled. It’s like a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, some people will be left standing.”

Countess calls the Declaration of Redevelopment “the community’s effort to shape what’s to come.”

“The hope is to reach out to other public housing communities so they can come and talk about their experiences,” Countess said. “This is about the residents’ homes, their future and their livelihood.”

Tabinda Riaz, another Legal Aid lawyer representing the tenant council, noted that Baltimore has adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. “Public housing is part of the solution to ending homelessness,” Riaz said. “The Declaration of Redevelopment will provide a forum empowering people to sign on and speak up about their communities and have a voice in the process.  Safe and decent housing adequate for the well being of oneself and one’s family is a human right.”

In addition to presenting the declaration, the two-hour forum will feature a presentation by Barbara Samuels of the American Civil Liberties Union, who will discuss Thompson v. HUD, a lawsuit challenging the city’s history of segregated neighborhoods.

Save Our Homes! will be held Sept. 9 at the Best Western Hotel, 5625 O’Donnell St., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Gregory Countess, 410/951-7685

Joe Surkiewicz, Director of Communications, 410/951-7683

Ella Broadway, president/O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council, 443/756-4139

Michelle Holmes/treasurer/ O’Donnell Heights Tenant Council, 443/831-2926

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