Hayden seeks to delay relocation of city poor

August 30, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has asked federal officials to delay a program that would move 285 inner-city residents to new neighborhoods in Baltimore and the surrounding metropolitan area.

Mr. Hayden, who until now has been neutral about the Move to Opportunity program (MTO), sent a letter Friday to Henry G. Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, asking that the Baltimore program be delayed.

News of the program has produced a racially tinged election-year uproar on Baltimore County's blue-collar east side, where community opponents and many politicians say the city is trying to export its poverty and drug problems.

Mr. Hayden denied any political motive, citing instead "a lack of public information and absence of citizen input" that has led to "an atmosphere nonconducive to success in Baltimore County."

The MTO program would move 285 poor, inner-city families to more prosperous neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area, using federal Section 8 rental subsidies.

Federal housing officials say the program is designed to disperse low-income families to areas with better housing, schools and job opportunities. They have said that half the families will get support services from social agencies.

They expect to start placing those families in November. The families will choose the homes they rent, and many are expected to remain in Baltimore.

Baltimore is one of five cities in the experimental program, which was proposed during President Bush's administration and approved by Congress in 1992.

MTO has almost no support among Baltimore County politicians, but until last week, Mr. Hayden From Page 1Amaintained that the county had no say in a program that was developed by Baltimore and federal officials.

Yesterday, he couldn't say what harm the program would cause and said he does not know what benefit a delay would achieve, other than, he said, giving officials time to figure out how to reassure east-side residents.

"This is a call to reason," he said.

Others saw a strong political motive.

"I can just imagine why he's doing this. It's an election year. . . . Things happen that are peculiar in election years," said Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, a 5th District Democrat who chairs the council's housing committee.

Ms. Hall said the lack of low-income housing around the state has made Baltimore a repository for Maryland's poor and homeless. She said it's the "right public policy" to disperse some to other areas.

"What would be gained by delaying it? There's no benefit," she said.

Democrats running in the primary for Mr. Hayden's job were eager to to criticize Mr. Hayden, but not necessarily as defenders of the program.

Bob Barrett, campaign manager for county Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, and Pikesville Councilman Melvin G. Mintz both asked why Mr. Hayden didn't express opposition when he first learned about the program.

Mr. Barrett noted that Mr. Hayden learned about the MTO program at a meeting of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council March 15. The minutes show that Mr. Hayden raised no questions or objections.

"We certainly look at this as a political ploy," Mr. Barrett said. Mr. Ruppersberger has called MTO an example of "social engineering."

Mr. Mintz, whose Pikesville- and Randallstown-based council district contains most of the county's black community, called the Hayden letter "an empty gesture," but refused several times to say whether he favors or opposes the MTO program.

Various politicians have raised objections to MTO, including retired District Judge John C. Coolahan, another Democrat running for executive, and U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, Mr. Hayden's Republican ally and a gubernatorial candidate. She has already protested to Mr. Cisneros, although she voted to approve the MTO program, with the rest of Maryland's congressional delegation.

Perry Hall Councilman Vincent Gardina has asked the county law office to block the program, and most other east side candidates oppose it.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was in San Francisco yesterday and had not seen the Hayden letter, spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said. A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said yesterday that she didn't know if officials in Washington had received the letter.

Baltimore County has no public housing, and low-income residents rely on Section 8 housing subsidies to pay rent in private apartments.

Officials said MTO's regulations prohibit relocation of residents to neighborhoods in which more than 10 percent of the residents already have incomes below the federal poverty level. That, they said, would exclude many east side neighborhoods in which residents are most fearful.

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