Project to target hiring of low-income residents

November 23, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Baltimore will serve as a pilot program for a new national effort to channel more federal housing funds toward low-income residents and minority businesses, officials announced yesterday.

Under the initiative, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will work with other federal agencies to coordinate programs and cut red tape to make it easier to put into effect a 25-year-old requirement that recipients of federal housing funds give preference to the hiring of neighborhood residents and minority contractors.

HUD also promised stricter enforcement of the so-called "Section 3" requirement, part of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968.

"This means jobs for people like you," Roberta Achtenberg, a HUD official said in announcing the program to residents of the Cherry Hill Homes public housing project in South Baltimore.

Speaking against a backdrop of two units undergoing extensive renovations, and flanked by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, Ms. Achtenberg said Baltimore is the first of 30 cities nationwide that will participate in the program.

"Why Baltimore? Because Baltimore has been an innovator, it has political leadership and the will to succeed," said Ms. Achtenberg, HUD's assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity.

Public housing residents embraced the effort.

"I think it's terrific. It's what we've been fighting for," said Elizabeth Wright, chairwoman of the public housing Residents Advisory Board and a tenant in nearby Westport Homes.

Yesterday's announcement marked the second time in two months that Baltimore has been selected for a major new HUD initiative.

Last month, officials unveiled a $293.6 million federal-state-city partnership -- the first of its kind for public housing -- to demolish and replace 1,116 units at crime-ridden high-rise projects.

The initiative announced yesterday would not mean any additional money for Baltimore, which last year received $176 million in federal housing and community development grants.

Instead, HUD will intercede with other federal agencies to provide services ranging from child care to job training so residents can take and hold jobs involving federal housing money, Ms. Achtenberg said. "Unless the services are brought together and coordinated, it doesn't make Section 3 meaningful," she said.

HUD estimates the federal money could support 300 low-income jobs in the city.

City housing officials could not immediately say how much of the federal housing money the city receives goes to fulfilling the Section 3 requirement.

But officials said the city is already working hard to meet that requirement and cited several examples.

Of 85 city residents hired to renovate units at Cherry Hill Homes, 26 were public housing residents, they said.

In addition, of the 40 contractors hired for the swift renovation of vacant public housing units, half were minority enterprises, they said.

And the Housing Authority of Baltimore City employs 118 public housing residents in various jobs.

At a town hall-style meeting with community residents after yesterday's announcement, Gregory Countess, a Legal Aid attorney who represents the Cherry Hill Tenants Association, asked what HUD would do to ensure that contractors complied with the Section 3 requirement. Ms. Achtenberg vowed stepped-up enforcement of the requirement, adding, "Today's initiative is about keeping that promise."

Mr. Henson said new procurement rules for awarding contracts would place a greater emphasis on "socioeconomic goals."

Another speaker, Allen Burrus, the minority owner of a moving and storage company, said he was willing to provide on-the-job training for public housing residents but wondered whether he would benefit from that.

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