Students march alongside Douglass Homes residents

By CHRIS PARK and NOELA LU | November 21, 2019

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COURTESY OF CHRIS PARK

Attendees protested potential JHPD presence in Douglass Homes.

On Saturday, residents of Douglass Homes, a public housing complex near Hopkins Hospital, protested the University’s alleged interest in purchasing the complex and the potential introduction of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD) into the community. 

In addition to tenants of Douglass Homes, several local activist organizations were present, including the People’s Power Assembly, Ujima People’s Progress Party, Baltimore for Border Justice and the Maryland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Demonstrators marched from North Dallas Court to North Broadway, right in front of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building on the medical campus.

Several Hopkins students participated in the protest. Sebastian Link, a Sociology graduate student who participated in the sit-in at Garland Hall, questioned the University’s policies in an interview with The News-Letter. The month-long occupation of Garland in protest of the planned private police force ended on May 8 with the arrests of seven people, including four students.

“When Hopkins arrives and pushes for gentrification, it’s not just that people are being pushed away, they cannot come back here either. What you have is people losing their resources by the actions of Hopkins. And they know that this is happening, even if they don’t want to talk about it or take responsibility,” Link said. 

Assistant Vice President Karen Lancaster of External Relations for the Office of Communications denied the University’s connection to Douglass Homes in an email to The News-Letter

“Johns Hopkins has no interest or involvement in any change to the status or ownership of Douglass Homes, nor do we have any intention of future Johns Hopkins Police Department patrolling that area,” she wrote. “It is unfortunate that this misinformation has caused concern among residents, but it is false.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, Reverend Annie Chambers, the President of the Douglass Homes Resident Advisory Board (RAB), expressed what she saw as a need for the residents to take action before Hopkins proceeds with their alleged plan of buying the complex. 

“The situation is Johns Hopkins wants to purchase Douglass,” she said. “We are saying no. We are acting now rather than later like the tenants did at Perkins. We are acting on it now. This is our home, we have a right to be here,” Chambers said. 

Nevertheless, the potential presence of the JHPD in Douglass Homes was a major point of concern among protesters. This April, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan approved legislation that will allow Hopkins to establish a private police force over a multiyear process.

Chambers expressed her concerns that the existing problems with policing in the community will be exacerbated should the JHPD be allowed to patrol Douglass Homes. 

“We do have some problems and we are dealing with those problems. But we have the Baltimore City Police. Can you imagine private police coming over — don’t know anything about the people in our community and police our community,” Chambers said. “It’s going to be another blood bath.”

Brandon Walker, the Outreach Coordinator at Ujima People’s Progress Party, echoed Chambers’ sentiments in an interview with The News-Letter.

“In an area that is already having issues with the community, with the policing and the distrust between the residents — it doesn’t help to insert one more police force under the guise of community and public safety,” he said.

While addressing the protesters prior to the march, Chambers further spoke to the inequality of developing public housing complexes.

“This is public housing. That [Hopkins] building wasn’t there 20 years ago; that was Douglass Homes there,” she said. “Little by little, they have been taking public housing in the city. And the developers are the only ones making money; we are homeless, suffering — and the developers are making money.”

According to attendees, they have been protesting the potential purchase of the complex for the past four years; Saturday’s event marked the highest attendance rate. 

Chambers emphasized that the only notable discussion on the potential purchase has been between Hopkins and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), with little to no input from Douglas Homes community members.

“[HABC] never gets input from the tenants until the last minute. They say, ‘This is going to happen, and we are going to give you a certificate or something to get you a place to live.’ But you can’t rent, the landlords are not accepting [the certificates]. When you do find a place, it’s broken down, run down,” Chambers said. 

Anthony Williams, who currently serves on the RAB and represents tenants for Section eight, agreed.

On Nov. 12, The Baltimore Sun reported that the HABC would stop accepting public housing applications beyond Dec. 20 because the current wait time for public housing is over five years.

Williams argued that shutting down the public housing list without notifying the residents of these public housing complexes and the RAB is illegal. 

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, public housing agencies, such as the HABC, are legally required to consider input from RABs regarding any significant adjustments to their plans. 

“They made all these decisions about the vouchers and public housing list without us. We need to be a part of the decision-making process. And what do I mean by the decision-making process? I mean that we need to be with [Executive Director of HABC] Janet Abrahams, in her office, making these decisions about public housing,” Williams said.

Baltimore City Council candidate Dave Heilker also pushed back against the impending closure of the Baltimore public housing lists. Heilker argued that the primary reason for the long waitlist is due to the chronic structural mismanagement of housing properties. 

“It’s just unconscionable and criminally negligent that right now, there are 15,000 vacant homes by the city and another probably 10,000 that are owned by parasitic landlords who live elsewhere and are just waiting for Hopkins to tear them down and build something else,“ he said. “We really need to be moving as a city to make housing accessible, regardless of people’s ability to pay, regardless of their stations in life.”

Demonstrators also criticized elected officials’ lack of commitment to passing policies that push for change. 

Chambers expressed frustration with the current U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under Secretary Ben Carson, a former director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Hopkins Hospital.

“We were told all these good programs are coming up for the people. But nothing really came up except snatching up housing,” she said.

However, Chambers added that the problem was not unique to the Trump administration. She said that policies under President Obama failed to support public housing communities like Douglass Homes, and the Trump administration was essentially continuing policies carried over from the Obama administration.

Andre Powell of the Peoples’ Power Assembly expressed similar dissatisfaction with federal policies.

“What’s been happening has been going on since the administration of President Bill Clinton. The U.S. government has been trying to get out of the business for providing for poor and working people. This is a continuing program of the federal government that has the complete collusion of the government of the state of Maryland,” Powell said. 

Chambers underscored her passion for public housing rights. 

“I’ve been asked by many people, ‘Why you doing this? You’re going to be alright.’ No, every time I pass a homeless person, I’m not alright. We live in America, the richest country in the world, but we got people sleeping on the street,” she said. “Until all of us are all right, none of us are resting.”

The HABC did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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