Baltimore County residents protest housing plan for inner-city families

August 31, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The heat inside a Baltimore County elementary school gymnasium matched the temperament of most of the 600 people who crowded there last night to protest a federal housing program that would move Baltimore's poor to other neighborhoods in the city and surrounding counties.

Members of the Hawthorne Civic Association, meeting at Hawthorne Elementary in Middle River, seemed convinced, as have east county residents at other meetings this summer, that the families will move into their neighborhood.

"Who picked Hawthorne and Middle River?" an enraged Virginia Reich shouted from the first row. "Who picked us?"

The crowd also vented its anger at Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a 5th District Democrat who represents the area.

Other local elected officials attended the meeting but did not speak.

Only Mr. Gardina addressed the crowd, repeatedly explaining that only federal officials have the power to influence the program, called Move to Opportunity (MTO).

But his effort brought only repeated boos, hissing and threats that he will be turned out of office in this year's elections.

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 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.

Officials expect to start placing the families in November.

The families will choose the homes they rent; many are expected to remain in Baltimore.

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

MTO has almost no support among Baltimore County politicians.

Jerry Hersl and Ray Shiflet, two Rosedale men who have been opposing MTO since spring, stirred last night's crowd, saying that the program was deliberately kept secret from the people, and is the first of possibly massive transfers of poor city residents to the county.

After they spoke, Ken Holt, a Republican candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, stepped to the microphone.

"This is a revolution," he said to cheers. "You are the soldiers in the revolution. The social welfare experiment has failed. It's time now for taxpayers who are paying the freight to be listened to."

Mr. Gardina tried to defend himself by charging that the Hersl-Shiflet campaign against MTO and Section 8 housing is really disguised political sabotage aimed at toppling incumbent Democrats who knew nothing about the program and have no legal way to stop it.

But Jody Kolosky, 38, voiced a common frustration of residents of the eastern county's older neighborhoods.

"Where's the opportunity?" he asked. "Everybody here is having a hard time. Up in Harford County, there's building going on everywhere. It's booming," he said.

That frustration is fueling much of the anger that MTO has provoked, according to Al Clasing, a longtime Back River Neck resident and Republican candidate for state Senate.

"They [the residents] see the downgrading of their county day by day, and they're scared to death," he said, referring to the thousands of high-paying industrial jobs that have left the eastern county and the flight of middle-class families to new neighborhoods in White Marsh, Perry Hall and Harford County.

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