Housing conflict emerges over funds City housing chief's plan is assailed.

March 10, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

A member of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee has accused the city housing commissioner of going behind the back of the panel to draft a plan to use federal funds that favors middle-class homeowners over poor renters.

But a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development defended the city, saying that the planned allocation of the money is not "cast in stone," and that HCD will meet with the group later this month.

The controversy involves $10.2 million in funds provided by the federal HOME program, which subsidizes the construction and rehabilitation of houses and apartment buildings.

Baltimore has been working for several months on a plan to divide the money between different income groups, and between rental units and homes that would be privately owned. The advisory committee was to consult with the city on the plan.

But members of the advisory committee say they were surprised that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last week told a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington how Baltimore would use the HOME funds.

Mr. Schmoke's plan allocates about $4.78 million for rental units and about $5.5 million for home ownership.

Ruth Crystal, an advisory committee member and the executive director of the Maryland Low-Income Housing Coalition, said the city was supposed to get input from the advisory committee before releasing any figures.

Ms. Crystal said she recently asked the city housing department when the committee and Housing Commissioner Robert W.Hearn could meet to discuss a plan. She said she was told that HCD was not yet far enough along in the process for a discussion. "But it seems he had enough [information] to take it to Congress," Ms. Crystal said.

Jane Harrison, another advocate for low-income housing and a member of the advisory committee, agreed that the figures should not have been released before the group had a chance to comment. "I'm anxious for the meeting to take place because I think it's important that members of the community be consulted," she said. "I must say, I'm surprised these figures were released" without a meeting first.

But Bill Toohey, a spokesman for HCD, said the department is planning to meet with the committee later this month. The city's plan is due at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on April 3, he said.

"We had to have something to present to [Congress] and we did, but we're open to suggestions; we're not blocking anybody out," Mr. Toohey said.

"We think we've done a great deal on getting outside comment, and we are taking care of low-income people as best we can," he said.

Mr. Toohey said that HCD held three public hearings on the plan and sought advice from a local government task force as well as from the 13-member advisory committee.

The advisory committee includes representatives of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Baltimore Urban League and the Maryland Food Committee.

Ms. Crystal said that the incident indicates that for city government's agenda, "it's more important to keep the middle class in the city and keep a tax base than it is to house the very poor."

"You can do more for your money, affect more poor people with rental projects" than with home ownership projects, she asserted.

However,Mr. Toohey, said that HOME money cannot legally be spent on housing for the middle class. "The homeownership we are going for is not middle class, it's for low- and moderate-income residents of the city," he said.

"We are putting people into Nehemiah homes [another federal housing program] who are making as little as $11,000 a year. So you can see that does not exclude low-income [people]."

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