Time bomb at high-rise projects

September 22, 1992

After the fatal shooting of Officer Ira Weiner and the critical wounding of Officer James E. Young Jr., Baltimore is a city on the edge. Nothing illustrates the tension more sharply than Sunday's confrontation at the Murphy Homes public housing project where police aimed their 9 mm. pistols at a restless crowd to control it.

The city came within one shot of a riot.

Passions may calm with time, but the problem of high-rise housing projects remains. Instead of getting better, those havens for filth and crime are getting worse, putting at risk not only the residents of these buildings but the welfare of the larger community as well.

Officer Young was shot at the Flag House Court public housing complex Friday while investigating a report of a man with a gun. Less than a month earlier, the same project was the scene of a sniper incident so dangerous an armored car was brought from Prince George's County to aid police.

Baltimore city officials have long recognized that these high-rise towers are uncontrollable and particularly undesirable for small children. Nearly three years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, acting on the recommendation of a blue-ribbon study panel, ordered municipal authorities to find a way to start moving families out of the crime-ridden apartment towers. Under a pilot program proposed nearly a year ago, five of the six high-rise buildings would be demolished at Lafayette Courts, near the main Post Office. The remaining tower would be converted into housing for senior citizens and handicapped individuals.

City housing officials reasoned that since Baltimore expects to receive $100 million in federal funds over the next six years to upgrade the existing high-rises, why not demolish them and replace them with newly constructed garden-type apartments, which would be safer?

This approach would seem to make eminent sense, particularly since several other cities with problem-plagued high-rises have dynamited them. The Catch 22 is that under federal regulations, Baltimore cannot diminish its public housing stock without immediately replacing units. As long as bureaucrats at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development deem it is better to pour money into fixing up aging high-rises -- however decrepit, crime-ridden or undesirable they may be -- those complexes cannot be demolished.

In theory, nothing prevents the city from evicting drug lords and other misfits from the public housing complexes and making those high-rise towers secure. In practice, however, neither the Housing Authority nor the city police department has the manpower that such a move would require. We urge the Schmoke administration to press its case for demolition in Washington.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.