High-rise hell

December 17, 1991

It's been more than a year since a mayoral task force recommended moving families with children out of Baltimore's problem-plagued high-rise public housing complexes. Yet so far housing officials haven't managed to come up with even a plan for achieving that goal, let alone implement it.

As the task force noted last year, the sheer density of poor people living in such structures leads to conditions inimical to healthy family life. Children have no safe areas to play in; stairwells and corridors become havens for drug dealers and their clients, and an already meager environment is further impoverished through vandalism and random violence.

The solution is to move families out of these buildings into scattered-site, low-rise garden apartments. But the federal regulatory maze forces city officials to exercise considerable ingenuity and imagination to make any plan work.

The city tentatively plans to begin by using $40 million in HUD modernization funds to reorganize the Lafayette projects, converting one of the complex's six high-rises to elderly housing, demolishing the other five and replacing them with 175 garden-type units. Still, that plan would only cover about half the families presently living at Lafayette; the rest would have to be relocated elsewhere, and some residents have voiced fears that they would be displaced before substitute housing could be found.

City officials argue a year is little enough time to develop such an ambitious plan, which they hope to present to HUD in January. Even if HUD accepts the proposal, it could still be years before the first new units come on line, however. That's reason enough to justify speeding plans for the city's remaining high-rise communities.

The frightful conditions inside many of Baltimore's high-rise projects nurture a festering social crisis that can only grow worse from delay.

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