Housing scrutiny sought But Schmoke rejects idea of commission

February 09, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and state Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings called yesterday for a commission to examine public housing problems and the city's failure to tap about $52 million in federal funds -- an idea Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke immediately rejected.

Mr. Mfume, D-Md.-7th, chairman of the congressional Black Caucus, and Mr. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates, called for the formation of a "blue ribbon commission" yesterday during a meeting with the mayor at City Hall.

At a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Mfume said the commission was necessary to look into "allegations of mismanagement" in the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development, two city agencies run by Robert W. Hearn. Mr. Mfume said there had been an "erosion of public confidence" in the two agencies.

While Mr. Mfume and Mr. Rawlings did not directly criticize Mr. Hearn, they suggested that the day-to-day operations of the housing department should be run by Deputy Commissioner Harold R. Perry. Mr. Mfume said the commission should determine whether Mr. Hearn keeps his job as commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development and executive director of the city Housing Authority, which runs public housing.

Mr. Hearn has been under fire since the recent disclosure that there is an 18 percent vacancy rate in the city's public housing high-rises. Many of the vacant units have been wrecked by vandals.

In addition, the Department of Housing and Community Development, once nationally known for its creative use of federal funds, has failed to tap about $52 million in federal money that could be used to renovate homes for the poor and fund a myriad other projects, including anti-poverty and literacy programs, as well as loans to businesses and developers.

The department's officials maintain that federal red tape made it difficult to spend the money. But critics of the agency say that inefficiency has contributed the city's slowness in spending the money.

Several hours after the meeting, Mr. Schmoke told The Sun that he had rejected the call for a blue ribbon commission.

"I still have confidence in Dr. Hearn," the mayor said.

Mr. Schmoke also said he had asked Daniel P. Henson III, a local developer, and Constance R. Caplan, a local real estate manager, to look into the public housing problems. Mr. Henson has been a close political supporter of the mayor.

The mayor also said the reasons for the department's problems would come to light during a City Council budget hearing slated for tomorrow.

"The oversight hearings will achieve the same goals an outside panel might achieve," the mayor said.

Asked how Mr. Henson, a developer who has received money from the city, could look at the housing department objectively, the mayor said, "It's very difficult to find a developer who hasn't received some money from [the department]."

The mayor also said he has been looking at reorganizing the housing department.

"I think that we are going to do business differently at [the housing department] than we have in the past few months. We have been engaged in the process of reviewing the agency for several months, and I had recommendations in front of me about some operational changes that should be made," he said.

Mr. Schmoke declined to give details about changes that are being considered.

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