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Suburbs Key to housing settlement Cooperation needed to make relocation of city families work

October 15, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Joan Jacobson and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

But political leaders in Baltimore County disagree about the program's success and liken the proposed settlement to "a giant MTO." U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican, called it "quota-driven, race-based, Section 8-style housing policy at its worst," and vowed a "big-time" fight.

Race is the subtext to the emotionally charged debate over the key condition of the settlement -- to replace half of the 2,700 residences in Baltimore's high-rise complexes with Section 8 rental certificates.

It comes at a time of racial tensions over everything from the O. J. Simpson verdict to campaign appeals during the recent Baltimore mayoral primary.

"This whole issue of race and class, which is not being discussed, is clearly behind the concern about people moving from the city to the suburbs," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a civil rights leader. "The city is majority black, the suburbs are majority white, and there are many people who have seriousmisperceptions."

If the relocation plan survives the opposition, it could turn on unanswered questions, including how many landlords would participate, how many public housing tenants want to move to the suburbs, and how many apartments are available for $650 to $800 a month, the general limit.

A half-dozen property managers and landlords randomly surveyed last week refused to discuss renting apartments to poor people with federal certificates.

The first step, under the settlement, is to create a $2 million counseling program to recruit landlords and offer assistance to the families moving.

LaRaye Holcomb, a mother of three who moved out of public housing in a crime-ridden Baltimore neighborhood to Columbia, experienced firsthand how many suburban property owners do not want to rent to a Section 8 family.

"It was really hard. So many people said, 'I don't want to participate in the program,' and some were really rude," she recalled.

But she was determined to leave her grim place in Johnston Square. Her 12-year-old twins, Gavin and Gayna, and 5-year-old Jonique, could not go outside because of the gunfire.

"We were like prisoners. It was unreal," she said.

After a long search, she found a landlord who agreed to try the Section 8 program for the first time. Now, she is living in a comfortable town house, and her children ride their bikes and skate for hours after school.

It's not an uncommon experience, according to national experts who track court-ordered desegregation of public housing.

"Although in many cases, there has been outcry and opposition in the beginning, once the programs are in effect, no one has problems with them," says Florence Roisman, a professor at Widener University School of Law.

In Dallas, Texas, a discrimination suit filed 10 years ago against the Dallas Housing Authority and city officials met strong resistance from white communities, as well as local politicians.

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