High-rise hell

November 23, 1990

A task force looking into the intractable issue of how to make the city's problem-plagued, high-rise public housing developments more livable has come up with a solution that has great promise: Move families with children to non-high-rise public housing units around the city.

In effect the group has gone on record as saying that public high-rises are no place to raise children. Turning them into apartments for the elderly is a one alternative that has worked well in places where it has been tried, including Baltimore. Indeed, studies have suggested that elderly people actually live longer, more independent lives in high-rise settings than in traditional units.

For young, single mothers and their children, however, high-rise living too often is a nightmare. Poverty, unemployment and despair combine to make these families vulnerable to predators of every description. There are few places for the kids to play, and the buildings are notorious for drugs, violence and vandalism. The sense of hopelessness that pervades troubled high-rise developments like Baltimore's Murphy Homes is almost palpable. Little wonder that the same studies showing elderly people live longer in high-rises also show a decrease in life expectancy among young families trapped there.

Government ought to be able to do a better job than it has in administering and maintaining its high-rise public housing stock. It just won't do to blame all the problems of these buildings on the people who live there. Now that recognition is growing that poor families are hurt far more than they are helped by life in the projects, the question becomes, what are the available alternatives, and how will they be paid for?

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