The poor people are coming! The poor people are coming!

September 02, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

A column in yesterday's editions gave the wrong first name for state Del. Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat.

The Sun regrets the errors.

You want to hear a scary story? Thanks to the federal government, that collection of godless bureaucrats who want only to do harm to America, 285 poor families in Baltimore will move to a better neighborhood this fall.

Here's the scary part. One of those families -- maybe even two or three -- could move to your neighborhood.

Scared? Well, they're scared in eastern Baltimore County. They're scared and they're mad and they're holding loud, scary, angry meetings.

Why are they frightened when so many others aren't? Part of the answer may have come on the radio yesterday.

If you had been listening to a debate on WINN, a black-oriented station yet, you could have heard state delegate Larry DePazzo of Dundalk say: "My concern about this program is [that it will do] much like Castro did when he opened the prisons and the mental institutions and sent us the AIDS patients. If I were mayor of Baltimore city, believe me, I think I would be derelict in my duty if I did not send out the worst of the worst."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Huh?

The program is called Move to Opportunity, not Move From Cuba. It's a tiny program, an experiment really, that would hardly be worth mentioning except that it has become a hot political item -- all heat and no light.

There's much screaming and little truth. For this you can blame virtually every politician in the county. The ones who aren't screaming aren't saying anything. I'm not sure which is worse.

County Executive Roger Hayden has asked federal officials to delay the program. He didn't make clear what that might accomplish or what was at risk.

We know what the real risks are. The projects, everyone agrees, have failed. The ghettos that we have made of our inner cities, nearly everyone agrees, have contributed to the growth of an underclass. Something else must be done.

So, the federal government, searching for something else, is giving money to five cities, including Baltimore, which will receive $12 million to subsidize rents.

At least half the families are expected to stay in the city. The other half -- maybe 140 families -- will move to the nearby counties.

How can this be a problem?

I called DePazzo to ask him, and he seemed so, well, reasonable. He agreed that we can no longer stand aside and watch cycles of poverty repeat themselves in Baltimore.

He pointed out, though, that Baltimore County has a long waiting list of its own for subsidized housing. "They're our first responsibility," he said.

He complained his area is already depressed without bringing in more poor people. He also was upset about how city officials tried to keep the program secret.

The points all seem legitimate. But do they make any sense? Do they justify the uproar?

How many of these 285 families will even end up in eastern Baltimore County? The participants will choose their own homes. It's unlikely many will move to obviously hostile neighborhoods.

"That's just it," DePazzo said. "We don't know how many will move here. I know 285 families is not much to fear. But Helen

Bentley says there's a $60 billion program -- that's billion with a 'b' -- to extend the program."

And here we go. Here we go scaring people again, as if Baltimore would get the entire $60 billion (if, indeed, such a bill ever passed) and tear down all the projects and pay all the occupants to live in Dundalk.

People are scared. They get scared when they hear DePazzo say he's worried that the families the city would supposedly dump on Baltimore County may "have to learn the basic rules of living -- like how to take baths and how not to steal."

This is ugliness. And although everyone denies it, a lot of the yelling is about race. In DePazzo's case, it could also be about his race for Baltimore County Council. His primary opponent, Jean Jung, a former county housing official, is a leader of a group that has contracted to place half the families who will relocate under the Move to Opportunity program.

DePazzo claimed this is neither a political nor a racial issue. He said it's about "hard-working people who are simply exhausted."

"Who needs more problems?" he asked. "And not even our problems."

Well, then, whose problems?

And who, DePazzo and other leaders might ask themselves, are making the problems even worse?

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