Burns calls for firing of city's housing commissioner Mayoral candidate says housing department is badly mismanaged.

August 28, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns, saying the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development is badly mismanaged, has called for the firing of Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn.

"I think the director of HCD should be let go of his job because he's not doing it," Burns said yesterday at a news conference held in front of three vacant houses in East Baltimore. "It's as plain as the nose on your face."

Burns used the event to blast Schmoke's housing record as part of his continued effort to "talk about issues" before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

He said that under the leadership of the incumbent Schmoke, the city has misspent federal funds that could have gone for housing rehabilitation, allowed much needed public housing units to go vacant, and watched while the number of vacant houses in the city increased.

There were about 5,000 vacant buildings in the city when Schmoke took office and the figure has increased to more than 6,000, municipal records show. Also, there has been an increase in the number of vacant public housing units. Of approximately 18,000 public housing units, 433 were vacant in 1989 and the figure had jumped to 543 in December 1989, the latest year for which figures are available.

Included in the total are some 300 vacant single-family dwellings scattered throughout the city. Many of these homes have been heavily damaged by vandals.

"[Schmoke's] not doing anything except grinning on television," Burns said.

Burns staged his news conference in front of a row of three vacant houses in the 400 block of E. 20th St. Burns said that two of the buildings -- 442 and 446 E. 20th St. -- are city-owned and were renovated while he was councilman.

But city property records show that both houses -- like the vast majority of vacant property in Baltimore -- are privately owned. Also, a citizen who lives across the street from the vacant properties said: "Those buildings have been vacant as long as I've been here. And I've been here eight years."

Later, Burns, who spent 15 years in the council and was mayor for a year before being defeated by Schmoke in 1987 -- issued a statement saying he chose the buildings as a "symbol of the kind of disrepair and vacancy that HCD has allowed to happen."

Schmoke, meanwhile, responded in a statement of his own.

"Mr. Burns is just pointing out problems that he gave me," Schmoke said. "He didn't solve these problems when he was mayor. And we didn't need his press conference to know about his failures."

Schmoke added that the "record is very clear that we have done a lot in housing, and while more needs to be done, it's very clear through HCD and [the Baltimore City Housing Authority] that we've been working on decent and affordable housing in this city."

One of the Schmoke administration's most highly publicized accomplishments is the Baltimore Nehemiah Housing project -- 283 new homes that will be sold to low-income buyers in West Baltimore. The $25 million project was a joint effort of the city, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (a consortium of city churches) and the non-profit Enterprise Foundation.

In another effort to stimulate home ownership, Schmoke created the Homeownership Institute, which counsels first-time home buyers and helps them to secure mortgages. Over the past two years, the institute has created about 2,800 new homeowners, the administration says.

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