HUD rejects plan to raze five public housing high-rises

August 28, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

The federal government yesterday rejected Baltimore's grand plan to level five high-rises at Lafayette Courts and replace them with garden apartments in an attempt to make life in public housing more hospitable.

But city officials remain hopeful of getting money next year to transform five of the six buildings at the East Baltimore housing ,, complex.

The authority applied this year for a $49.6 million urban revitalization grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help finance the project, but the agency failed to make the cut in competition with 41 other cities for the $300 million in HUD Hope VI grants. Baltimore's application rated 21st behind such cities as Seattle, Boston, New York and Cleveland.

While most cities will use the grants to rehabilitate dilapidated public housing units, San Francisco, New Haven and Kansas City received grants to demolish existing public housing and replace it with modern apartments, said HUD spokeswoman Vivian Potter.

Baltimore officials said they were shocked their request was rejected.

If Congress approves an additional $483 million for revitalization grants requested by HUD for fiscal 1994, the Housing Authority plans to resubmit its application, said Daniel P. Henson III, Housing Authority executive director.

HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros said he will "ask Congress to permit HUD to use existing applications as the basis for making next year's funding decisions."

Mr. Henson said, "If we are not included [in the 1994 awards], we would certainly appeal to the highest heaven. There is no reason for us not to get an award since I believe we had an excellent proposal.

"We just didn't politick as hard as some other cities did. We always thought it was an uphill battle."

Based on discussions with HUD officials, Mr. Henson said he believes the city stands a good chance of securing a grant next year.

But Ms. Potter said HUD "can't say whether or not they have a better chance next year. The criteria for 1994 has not been compiled yet."

The proposal to redesign Lafayette Courts included a plan to turn the 18-acre development into an area with public housing "designed to strengthen family life and community spirit." The development would offer educational and job training services and allow residents to participate in managing the buildings.

The plan would reduce the number of units on the site, off Fayette Street near the main post office, from 816 to 460. Most of the new units, which would include housing for young single mothers and senior citizens, would be townhouses. Financing for the rest of the $115 million project would come from city, state and other federal sources.

In 1990, a task force appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke issued a report that said the city's 18 public housing high-rises are unsafe for families with children because of violent crime and drug dealing. About 2,000 families live in the high-rises.

Officials have said they ultimately would like to demolish most of the 18 high-rises, retaining some for conversion to housing for the elderly.

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