Baltimore can't be region's poorhouse The income divide: Lawsuit process was flawed, but larger issue must be the focus.

October 18, 1995

BALTIMORE AND the American Civil Liberties Union erred in reaching a settlement on a lawsuit over the concentration of public housing in the city without bringing the suburbs to the table. City and ACLU leaders contend that would have been impossible, in a technical legal sense, because the suburbs weren't parties to the suit.

Hogwash. The suit's proposed solution -- dispersing subsidized tenants from the city into the counties -- affects the suburbs. To dictate a unilateral solution to the counties simply stirs bad blood that has built up for decades.

The question should be: Can we overcome this blunder of protocol to address a greater failure? The region's leaders agree -- in principle -- that the city can't house all the region's poor. An impoverished city ultimately diminishes the entire metroplis. But how do we get from hand-wringing to problem-solving?

We agree with Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger that the spreading of more poor into the suburbs is an issue of class, not race. Racism is a tenacious poison, but this controversy is a chasm between haves and have-nots. Propose a group home or subsidized housing and many middle-class neighborhoods rise up to fight what they view as an attack on their quality of life.

As suburbs become more diverse, as middle-class blacks continue to flee the city, the geographic racial divide isn't as great as the income gap. Some 22 percent of city residents live below the poverty line -- an income of $12,674 for a family of four -- compared to 5 percent in the suburbs. One of every three city kids lives in poverty, compared to one in 20 in the suburbs. Half of all city families with children under 18 are headed by single females, compared to 16 percent in the suburbs. Two of every five city residents older than 25 lack a high school diploma, compared with one in five suburban adults.

The city and the ACLU should delay a final settlement until all the parties can come to the table. Rather than devolve into

another senseless bout of fear-mongering and finger-pointing, this problem demands a solution with the city and all suburban counties involved.

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