Plan to relocate families from inner city fuels fears

July 31, 1994|By Larry Carson and Pat Gilbert | Larry Carson and Pat Gilbert,Sun Staff Writers

An article in Sunday's editions of The Sun incorrectly described the candidacy of Stephen A. Xintas. Mr. Xintas is running for the House of Delegates from Baltimore County's 6th Legislative District.

The Sun regrets the error.

For residents of eastern Baltimore County, a plan that could move poor inner-city residents to the suburbs has created a summer of rumors, uncertainty and racial politics.

"I've heard that the city is going to tear down the Lafayette and Murphy Homes high-rise projects and move the people here to Essex," says Stephen Xintas, a tavern keeper running as a Republican for the County Council in the 5th District. "And I hear residents of Hawthorne are being moved out to make room for people from the city."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

A 7th District council candidate, Democratic Del. Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk, told an angry crowd at Chesapeake High School last month that city housing project dwellers "must be to taught to bathe and how not to steal."

The object of their anger is Moving to Opportunity (MTO), a pilot program by the federal government and Baltimore that will use Section 8 rent subsidies to move 285 poor families from inner-city neighborhoods to more prosperous areas.

Sponsors of the program say they expect about half those chosen to pick new housing in the city. How many of the rest are likely to move to Baltimore County or other metropolitan area counties is unclear.

Approved by the federal government in March, MTO is expected to place its first city residents in new homes by November.

Opponents call the program the first step in an attempt to move inner-city residents to eastern Baltimore County en masse. MTO officials say that just the opposite is true. Federal authorities say MTO has been well received elsewhere.

Baltimore County officials have stayed outside the fray, calling the program the city's project and the city's problem.

But candidates for Eastside offices have been hearing plenty about it when they go door-to-door.

"We've got more than our share of Section 8 housing, and now the government wants to shove more down our throats," Cleveland Reynolds, a retired firefighter, told Democratic Senate candidate Robert Page during a swing through the Country Ridge section of Essex.

"Ever since Section 8 housing started increasing four or five years ago, crime has been increasing in our neighborhood. As soon as I can, I'm selling my house and I'm out of here," Mr. Reynolds said.

MTO officials say the community's concerns are groundless -- that the program was not designed to concentrate low-income people, but to disperse them -- in the city and surrounding counties -- in neighborhoods with good housing, schools and job opportunities.

"The actions of some people spreading rumors and making inflammatory remarks is irresponsible and racist," said Daniel P. Henson III, director of the Baltimore City Housing Authority, which administers the program.

Some MTO backers blame Baltimore County officials for letting rumors about the project go unchecked.

"If you ask me, has there been an adequate effort to inform residents about the facts of the MTO program before things got out of hand, I'd have to say no," said Robert Gajdys, executive director of the Community Assistance Network, the Baltimore County nonprofit housing agency selected to counsel MTO applicants.

Racial fears roused

County Executive Roger B. Hayden said that the county has no control over the MTO program and was not invited to help plan it. But in light of the furor, he said his administration would attempt to get accurate information to concerned residents.

There is no doubt that MTO has aroused racial fears and animosities in the east side's predominantly white, blue-collar neighborhoods. Many residents see MTO as the first step in a government plan to tear down the city's housing projects and move their residents to eastern Baltimore County.

The resentment of working class people in neighborhoods already suffering from unemployment, crime and urban decay has found an outlet in the Eastern Political Organization, which has conducted a noisy campaign of community meetings to protest the MTO plan.

"I get heartburn when I have to get up at 5 a.m. to go to work and think about these people" sleeping in rent-subsidized houses, said Jerry Hersl, a Rosedale engineer who helped form the organization.

It's a feeling that conservative Eastside Democrats capitalized on during the 1960s and early 1970s, and some candidates have taken up the cry this election year. Other politicians are running for cover, blaming the federal bureaucracy for plotting behind their backs.

"We're getting the word out to residents to overcome the secrecy surrounding this program," said Ray Schiflet, another founder of the Eastern organization.

'Fear campaign'

MTO's backers say most of the "information" being disseminated by Mr. Schiflet's group is sheer nonsense.

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