Empowerment zone: one goal, many ideas

April 07, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

One idea is to set up community boarding schools for youths who come from troubled families.

Another is to develop a homeownership incentive program that would attract rookie police officers and new teachers.

A third suggests promoting recycling businesses.

Those ideas, and dozens of others developed by local committees, could help Baltimore obtain a coveted designation as a federal empowerment zone -- and an estimated $100 million in new federal aid.

The proposals were presented last night before Baltimore's empowerment zone advisory council, an 82-member board of community, business, civic and government leaders.

They will be presented again today during a visit here by U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, who will decide this year which cities get the aid package. The money can be used for a wide range of services, including education, housing and job training.

Hayes Sample-Bey, a minister at the Moorish Science Temple and a member of the public safety committee, said traditional anti-crime efforts must be supplemented by employment and housing opportunities.

"Don't just clean up [crime]. . . . When you have a community of homeowners, you'll protect yourself," he said.

Michael V. Seipp, who is coordinating the city's empowerment zone campaign, said such street-level input is essential to making empowerment zones work.

"If communities aren't involved from day one, it'll just be another government program. . . . If we don't start making communities feel good about themselves, we'll never be able to effect change."

In February, the city selected three large areas to be included in its application for an empowerment zone designation. They include swaths of dilapidated East and West Baltimore neighborhoods that straddle the downtown business district, and the Fairfield industrial section of South Baltimore.

Some of the neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester on the west side and the area around Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore, already are undergoing heralded revitalization efforts. A third of the 73,000 residents in the proposed empowerment zone live in poverty.

After receiving suggestions from the advisory council, the committees will develop specific ways to implement their ideas. In May, the council will decide which programs will be included in the application. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer then must approve the application, which is due at the Department of Housing and Urban Development June 30.

Baltimore faces stiff competition to be named one of the nation's six urban empowerment zones. By law, one zone must go to a city with a population under 500,000, and another is reserved for a city that borders on another state.

It is widely believed that Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are leading candidates for three of the remaining four zones. That leaves Baltimore to compete with such cities as Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit and Houston for the last designation.

Mr. Seipp said he believes today's visit by Mr. Cisneros will help the city's campaign.

"Any time we get someone from D.C. to come and see what our streets are like is incredibly important," he said.

The committees also suggested:

* Encouraging employer-assisted home-buying programs.

* Giving each student entering middle school an individualized plan of study that would help achieve career goals.

* Creating a "one-stop shop" of social services for people experiencing family violence.

* Implementing a "buy Baltimore" program to encourage businesses to purchase goods and services from each other.

* Opening schools on weekends and in the evenings for community education, recreation and cultural events.

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