An experimental housing program that will move 285 Baltimore families from inner city public housing to homes in better neighborhoods will not expand beyond its current size, federal officials said yesterday.
About $149 million originally earmarked for a second round of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program was rescinded by a House-Senate conference committee, said Michael A. Stegman, an assistant U.S. secretary of housing.
That money will go instead into a counseling program for regular recipients of Section 8 federal rent subsidies.
The MTO program has created a furor in Baltimore County's blue collar, Eastside communities, where activists and politicians have whipped up an election-year frenzy with claims that MTO is the first step in a plan by city and federal officials to move thousands of poor, inner-city residents to their neighborhoods.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), defended the program yesterday but criticized its handlers.
"What I support is that people should have the opportunity to better themselves, and the government should do no harm," she said.
"But the program has been bungled by the city administration and by the group that was supposed to administer it," she said. "There has not been enough consultation with the community out there. That has exacerbated discontent to the point that it would be only a hollow opportunity for the poor people in the program."
Ms. Mikulski brushed off a question about whether MTO funding was cut in response to political pressure and complaints.
She said that President Clinton had asked for no new money for MTO and that HUD officials admitted that the program had many problems that the agency wanted to resolve.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City is handling the MTO program locally. The Community Assistance Network, a private Baltimore County anti-poverty agency, is implementing it under contract with the housing authority.
MTO, which HUD called a "demonstration" program, is intended to uplift low-income families in public housing by helping them to move into neighborhoods with better schools, living conditions and job opportunities.
The recipients will be tracked for 10 years, and their experience will become part of a report to Congress on housing issues.
The program was conceived during the Bush administration at the urging of Jack F. Kemp, then secretary of HUD, and adopted by the Clinton administration.
Mr. Stegman, who supervises HUD's policy development and research, said the money originally intended for a second round of MTO will go instead to a program called Choice in Mobility.
"Choice in Mobility differs from MTO in that it doesn't require families to move to a particular area, for instance, low poverty areas," he said.
MTO rules prohibit recipients of Section 8 grants, which provide subsidies for low income renters of private apartments and homes, from moving to areas in which more than 10 percent of the residents have incomes below the federal poverty level.
Those earnings levels range from $9,840 for a single parent and child to $24,720 for a family of eight.
Baltimore is one of four cities nationally that won a competition for MTO funding. The others are Boston, Chicago and New York. In addition, Los Angeles was required by HUD to be part of the program. About 6,200 families will be involved nationally.
Rumors involving the program have been circulating through Baltimore's suburban counties ever since the local program was announced in March. But the main opposition surfaced at a series of heated meetings in eastern Baltimore County's white, blue-collar communities.
Opponents have expressed fears that the city would use MTO to "dump" hundreds of poor families living in the Lafayette Court and Murphy Homes in Baltimore into low-income apartment complexes in Essex.
Last night, before a crowd of about 350 people gathered in the Dundalk Community College gym, the two men who have stirred most of the opposition to MTO urged people to go to the polls on Tuesday and "clean house."
Jerry Hersl and Ray Shiflet distributed a sheet of their own political endorsements for Tuesday's primary election and said they intend to become a political force in Dundalk, as they are in Essex.
On the front of the endorsement letter, they repeated the unsubstantiated claim that has produced so much fear in Eastern Baltimore County -- that "MTO is only the beginning of a much larger move of 18,000 families in Baltimore City public housing."
Mike Bardoff, a Baltimore Neighborhoods tenant organizer who spoke about an elderly grandmother he helped get a federal Section 8 rent subsidy to stave off homelessness, was booed and hooted at by the foot-stomping crowd.