High-rise proposal is not enough

January 05, 1993

Among the presents Bill Clinton will be able to dish out soon after he moves into the White House are $300 million in grants to improve decrepit public housing. Baltimore City is preparing itself for a major push to win one of those grants.

Baltimore is lucky. Unlike many other cities, it has a comprehensive proposal ready for the incoming Clinton administration. That proposal calls for the demolition of five crime-ridden high-rise towers at the Lafayette Courts housing development near the main Post Office. They would then be replaced with more than 500 garden apartments.

When the city proposed using funds earmarked for the modernization of those high-rise towers to tear them down, it got nowhere with the Bush administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development. In a felicitous accident of public policy, however, that same bureaucracy had been drafting guidelines for a new experiment.

Called Hope VI, the new program aims to demonstrate ways to improve deteriorated public housing. It is fully funded. Demonstration sites are to be designated by this summer. Baltimore is flexing all the muscle it has to get one of those grants.

We have supported the idea of redeveloping high-rise public housing ever since a blue-ribbon task force first proposed it three years ago.

Ample evidence in this city and elsewhere throughout the nation proves that vertical warehousing of low-income families -- many of them dysfunctional to begin with -- is not working. Some cities have dynamited their high-rise projects. Others, including Baltimore, find them to be increasingly unsafe and unserviceable white elephants.

The Lafayette Courts redevelopment proposal would make an ideal demonstration project for a couple of additional reasons. It is near East Baltimore areas where other innovative strategies are being tested.

Among them is the Nehemiah II initiative to reclaim a deteriorated neighborhood by building or rehabilitating 150 properties. Another successful strategy has been the modestly priced cooperative development of Washington Hill Mutual Homes.

The city's push for Hope VI money is commendable. But it is not enough. While the city is lobbying for new money, many existing public housing units are vacant and vandalized. To some degree, the city's inability to manage those units may be due to budgetary reasons and inflexible federal guidelines.

But the main reason is local incompetence, pure and simple. Nothing else explains why so many scattered-site units -- once the pride of the Housing Authority, which took pains to select good tenants for them -- are ruined today.

The Baltimore City Housing Authority needs to get its act together.

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.