Housing the poor

February 28, 1991

In Tuesday's Evening Sun, reporter Joan Jacobson told of a Johnston Square woman living with her children in a burned out, boarded-up row house owned by the city Housing Authority. The city offered to move the family to a public housing project after a fire ravaged their home last January, but drugs and crime have so infested the projects that Deborah Wheeler decided her family would be better off in a bombed-out, ripped-up basement.

The Housing Authority has since found Wheeler a place to live, but her problem is by no means an aberration. The piteous state of housing for America's poor is abundantly evident in Baltimore, where 30,000 families now are on the waiting list for public housing. Most live together in cramped quarters with inadequate bathroom and kitchen facilities. Many end up homeless. No new public housing has been built since President Reagan slashed funds to build new homes for the poor -- essentially obliterating government responsibility.

Into this void now comes a unique coalition -- the Prudential Corporation and a roster of private, non-profit foundations. Together they have contributed $62.5 million as seed money in an innovative effort called the National Community Development Initiative (NCDI), which will operate through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Maryland's Enterprise Foundation.

NCDI will make loans and grants to neighborhood community development associations in 20 cities, including Baltimore, and coordinate partnerships between the associations, local foundations, businesses and state and city governments. The initiative is expected to leverage over $500 million for housing. In addition Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, has committed $100 million to make available long-term, low-rate mortgages for affordable housing.

The NCDI initiative is without a doubt the largest private-sector investment ever made to revitalize low-income neighborhoods, and there is little doubt it is desperately needed. It will be interesting to see how far this program gets in alleviating the immense problems created by a decade of neglect by the federal government.

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