HUD Secretary Kemp rejects fast track for Lafayette Courts BALTIMORE CITY

December 02, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke traveled to Washington hoping to gain federal help in speeding city plans to demolish five of the six high-rise buildings at the Lafayette Courts housing complex and replace them with town homes.

But after meeting with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp yesterday, Mr. Schmoke's hopes for fast-tracking the Lafayette Courts plan were --ed.

In a meeting at HUD headquarters, Mr. Schmoke asked that the city be allowed to use federal money now slated for the rehabilitation of the high-rise buildings at Lafayette Courts to finance the planned demolition and reconstruction envisioned in the redevelopment plan.

Mr. Kemp told the mayor that he is powerless to waive the regulations governing how the modernization money is used because they were imposed by Congress.

While there was no help forthcoming with Lafayette Courts, the mayor said HUD would consider waiving other regulations that he said hampered city efforts to provide housing for the poor.

"I'm to get a document back to Secretary Kemp that details our vision for improving public housing in Baltimore in three years and defines the regulatory impediments for achieving that goal," Mr. Schmoke said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kemp declined comment on the meeting.

If Mr. Schmoke's request on Lafayette Courts had been granted, it would have marked a major breakthrough because HUD has not provided any new funding for family public housing units since 1976. Instead, the agency has cut support for public housing and aimed the remaining money at rehabilitating existing units and building some units for elderly people.

Approximately 2,000 families live in 18 high-rises that are owned by HUD and managed by the city housing authority. The buildings have been plagued by drug-related violence. As a pilot project, city officials proposed demolishing five of Lafayette Court's six high-rise buildings and replacing them with two-story town homes.

The remaining high-rise building would be refurbished and used as housing for the elderly and for community centers.

City officials said the new housing complex would have fewer obstructed areas where drug dealers can congregate. The new housing also would provide residents with back yards that should give them a sense of privacy and a sense of ownership, the officials maintain.

Even if Mr. Kemp refuses all of Mr. Schmoke's overtures, the mayor has some reason for optimism about the Lafayette Courts plan. President-elect Bill Clinton will take office Jan. 20, and he promised during the campaign to give local governments more control over how federal aid is spent.

Also, Mr. Schmoke said, the plan is in a federal funding competition that should be decided early next


City housing officials estimate that the planned redevelopment would cost $58.5 million and take seven years to complete.

"We would receive much of that money to modernize Lafayette Courts anyway," explained Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. More than 800 families live in the 37-year-old Lafayette Courts complex, located on Aisquith Street between Fayette and Orleans streets in East Baltimore.

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