False promises?

October 09, 1990

Why should it take Baltimore and its quasi-autonomous public housing authority four years to turn over five vacant, boarded-up houses to a developer who wants to invest in one of the city's most distressed neighborhoods?

That's the question Edward W. Lee Jr., a landlord and developer who has been trying to get the city to sell him five rat-infested houses on North Fulton Avenue, has been asking since 1986. Lee, an experienced landlord who owns several other buildings in the neighborhood, can't understand why the city won't let him renovate the vacant buildings.

Given the Schmoke adminstration's professed desire to see vacant buildings rehabbed -- and the fact that no one else has expressed interest in the project -- it's a good question.

A housing department spokesman says the city wants a deal and is moving as fast as it can to remove the legal obstacles to getting one, which include strict HUD guidelines for selling public housing units and a sticky legal dispute over insurance claims stemming from a fire at one of the buildings.

But if housing were really the priority Mayor Schmoke says it is, he and his housing commissioner ought to have been able to cut through the red tape and bureaucratic inertia. Why let the process drag on indefinitely? At that rate, the 40,000 applicants for city public housing will wait until the year 2990 before the city finishes reclaiming its 5,000 boarded-up and abandoned houses. Let's get cracking, City Hall.

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