Hayden's Move to Opportunism

September 02, 1994

The hottest issue of this election season on Baltimore County's east-side is the federal Moving to Opportunity program that would enable 285 inner-city families to move to better neighborhoods in Baltimore and the surrounding counties.

Residents of Essex and Dundalk have denounced MTO as a way to dump city ills on their communities. Local political candidates have capitalized on the citizenry's anger by adding their own criticisms of the program. Even contenders for higher offices, mindful of the huge bloc of eastside votes, have tried to score points off the dispute.

The latest pol aiming to make hay off this ugly situation is Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden. Mr. Hayden had not taken a public stand on the issue until last week when he requested in a letter to federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros that MTO's implementation in the Baltimore area be postponed. Emotions are running too high to go forward with the program, argues the executive, who describes his letter as a "call to reason."

Mr. Hayden's concerns, on the eve of the primary election, come too late. County officials have known about MTO since at least last March but wouldn't publicize it, apparently for fear of arousing the raw feelings that now rage on the eastside.

It's debatable whether a pro-active effort to explain the program would have prevented the current controversy. What seems certain, however, is that the problem has been made worse by the unwillingness of Mr. Hayden and his staff to deliver the facts about MTO to county citizens months ago.

Here are some facts they could have mentioned: Many MTO families will stay in the city because of the familiar surroundings and access to public transportation. MTO families can't move to areas where more than 10 percent of the residents live below the poverty level, which would keep many eastside neighborhoods from being possible destinations. MTO families will be counseled on how to be good neighbors in their new communities.

Most important of all, MTO is a laudable reversal of past housing policies that bunched poor families and thereby offered them little advancement. A similar program in Chicago resulted in positive results across the board for the participants, from lowered dropout rates to increased incomes.

MTO can do helpful things for Baltimore's poor, and by extension for the entire region. Too bad Baltimore County officials declined to make that point when it most needed to be made.

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