Scrap program to relocate poor, Hayden tells HUD

September 17, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Annoyed at federal housing officials for ignoring his request that the controversial Moving to Opportunity program be delayed, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden asked yesterday that the local program be canceled.

In a letter faxed and mailed to Henry G. Cisneros, the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, Mr. Hayden said that since Congress "has eliminated future funding for the MTO program, it would be irresponsible and unfair to all involved if this program were to begin in Baltimore County."

Mr. Cisneros has not acknowledged receiving an earlier letter from Mr. Hayden, dated Aug. 25, that asked for a delay in the program, which would move 285 poor inner-city Baltimore families to more affluent neighborhoods in the city and the surrounding five counties.

The first families are supposed to begin moving in November. Baltimore is one of five cities in the experimental program. The city housing department received $12.5 million and contracted with the county's private, nonprofit poverty program, Community Assistance Network, to help provide half of the participants with counseling and other help.

William Connelly, a spokesman for HUD, said the agency has not responded to the first Hayden letter. The second letter could delay a response even more, he said.

Mr. Hayden said operating a pilot program when "there's no future to it" makes no sense and that Mr. Cisneros' failure to acknowledge his earlier letter is "not acceptable."

Money for future expansion of MTO was rescinded by a House-Senate conference committee in August. The money will be used instead for counseling regular recipients of Section 8 federal rent subsidies.

The concept of MTO helped to stir an election-year furor in the eastern part of the county.

Protest rallies drew hundreds of angry residents who responded to unfounded rumors that thousands of Baltimore's poorest, black public housing residents would all be moved to run-down apartment complexes in Dundalk, Essex, Rosedale and Middle River.

The protesters were not dissuaded by assurances that the idea was to disperse poor people in generally prosperous neighborhoods, not to concentrate them in near-poor, hostile ones. In any case, MTO participants can decide for themselves where to use their federal Section 8 rental subsidies.

In the wake of the rallies, nearly every county politician either opposed the program or remained silent.

"The turmoil got me involved," Mr. Hayden said, adding that he waited for federal officials to step in and provide information to fearful residents. "The feds aren't doing their job," he said.

He noted that HUD officials appeared at only one informational meeting. During that session, at Chesapeake High School, the crowd, urged on by local politicians including Democratic Del. Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk, jeered and hooted at attempts by federal bureaucrats to explain MTO.

"This program, what's left of it, is a bad idea for Baltimore County," Mr. Hayden said. He called it a "bad program" that had been left "without a whit of logic" by congressional action to eliminate the $149 million in expansion money.

"We've got to let the public have a chance to get involved," Mr. Hayden said. Accusations that he is taking a stand now merely to win political advantage in his re-election campaign are false, he said. "I have a responsibility to run Baltimore County," he said. "I'm going to carry out my responsibility. The feds had a responsibility [to provide information]. They shirked theirs."

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the Baltimore County Ministerial Alliance, made up of 14 black ministers in the western part of the county, criticized Mr. Hayden's first letter. Led by the Rev. Charles T. Sembly, pastor of Union Bethel AME Church, the group accused the executive of "playing into the hands of those who would promote acrimony and racism at the expense of many decent people who only want an equal chance at life."

Mr. Sembly was not available for comment yesterday.

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