Former mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns charged yesterday that the Schmoke administration has allowed city-owned housing units to slide into ruins, blighting the neighborhoods they were supposed to improve.
"You want people to feel proud of their neighborhoods, but how can people feel comfortable . . . when they have to live like this," said Mr. Burns, who is challenging Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.
Mr. Burns delivered his attack on the Schmoke administration's record on housing while standing before two crumbling row houses at 442 and 446 E. 20th St. He said the two houses are part of the city's public housing program.
But a spokesman for Mayor Schmoke said that the two houses Mr. Burns used as the backdrop for his campaign statement were in fact privately owned and that residents of the neighborhood have complained that the houses have been vacant at least since Mr. Burns was mayor in 1987.
"I'm trying to find out whether Mr. Du Burns knows what the hell he's talking about," said Clinton R. Coleman Jr., the mayor's spokesman.
Mr. Burns blamed the city housing commissioner, Robert W. Hearn, for what he called the city's failure to properly maintain its public housing stock and suggested that Mr. Hearn resign. A spokesman for Mr. Hearn said the housing commissioner would have no response to Mr. Burns' remarks.
While about 20 onlookers from the neighborhood at 20th Street and Greenmount Avenue nodded their approval, Mr. Burns charged that the Schmoke administration has allowed so many vacant city-owned buildings to fall into disrepair that the housing department is hurting rather than helping some of the city's neighborhoods.
xTC According to a report in The Evening Sun in February, about 300 of the 2,800 city-owned houses that were renovated as part of the scattered-site public housing program have since become vacant and vandalized. Many had been stripped of doors, plumbing fixtures and other systems.
Mr. Burns said the houses -- which cost as much as $45,000 each to renovate -- have fallen into disrepair since Mayor Schmoke took office because the city failed to make sure that the tenants paid their rent and otherwise took care of the houses.
"We spent millions of dollars and look at what we've got," Mr. Burns said. "They are just not doing their jobs."
But Mr. Schmoke, in a statement released through his office, said that the problems in housing were problems that he inherited from Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns was mayor from January until December 1987.
"He didn't solve these problems when he was mayor, and we didn't need his press conference to know about his failures," the mayor's statement said. Mr. Schmoke said that developers have been working with the city and the neighborhood association on a plan to rehabilitate vacant properties in the neighborhood Mr. Burns chose for his news conference.