GOP seen failing to halt shift of poor U.S., Md. officials cite procedural hurdles faced by Ehrlich

'He jumped the gun'

ACLU vows to pursue court action over city housing bias suit

November 04, 1995|By Patrick Gilbert and John B. O'Donnell | Patrick Gilbert and John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF Staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

From Baltimore's suburbs to Capitol Hill, government leaders yesterday raised doubts about Republican efforts to scuttle a plan giving hundreds of poor Baltimore families the chance to move to suburban neighborhoods.

Key congressional leaders said that a bid by Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland's 2nd District to insert new language in a House and Senate housing appropriation bill would be difficult to pull off. The maneuver "will face significant procedural and parliamentary hurdles," warned Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland.

And Michael H. Davis, chief aide to the Baltimore County executive, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, said: "We've learned that in the legislative process, nothing is final until a bill is passed and signed into law."

The proposed settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit in Baltimore would give 1,342 families federal rent-subsidy certificates to move from inner-city public housing. The settlement -- bitterly opposed by Baltimore County officials -- is designed to break up nearly all-black concentrations of poor people.

Mr. Ehrlich said late Thursday that House GOP leaders would block the use of federal funds to move city public housing tenants to Baltimore County and other suburban counties. He said the provision would be included in an appropriations bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

He said that he was "cautiously optimistic" that his provision will be in the legislation and added yesterday that he had seen "no evidence of backing off" by GOP leaders.

Aides to the key House Republicans whom Mr. Ehrlich said had agreed to block the ACLU settlement would not confirm his statement, though some acknowledged that there had been discussions. And an aide to Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, a key figure in negotiations over the legislation, said it would be difficult to include a provision that was in neither the House nor the Senate versions.

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said she applauded Mr. Ehrlich's action "if he's successful." The whole plan, she said, is "social engineering that doesn't work."

She and Mr. Ruppersberger are to meet Wednesday with HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, whose agency is a party to the legal settlement.

The two county executives also plan to meet with Ms. Mikulski, the ranking Democrat on the House-Senate committee considering the HUD legislation, about Mr. Ehrlich's provision.

Ms. Mikulski would not be interviewed yesterday and issued a written statement declining to comment on the ACLU settlement or on Mr. Ehrlich's efforts.

Last year, Ms. Mikulski was instrumental in killing a HUD demonstration program that, like the proposed settlement of the ACLU suit, gave rent subsidies to poor people to move from the inner city to the suburbs. That program, Moving To Opportunity, triggered a storm of protest during the 1994 election in Baltimore County.

Some in county government worried yesterday that Mr. Ehrlich's announcement was premature and might jeopardize its success.

"He jumped the gun," said one Baltimore County official who asked not to be identified. "You don't tell the world about something like this until it's a done deal."

Mr. Davis said that Mr. Ruppersberger and the congressman had discussed using an appropriation bill as a way to thwart the lawsuit settlement.

Mr. Cisneros, the HUD secretary, said yesterday that he didn't know whether Congress could block it.

Asked whether he would try to get Ms. Mikulski to block the Ehrlich move, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said: "We are going to pursue . . . a resolution through HUD and the courts."

"I think it's real clear that there has to be some way to settle this case," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. "You've heard my settlement agreement. What's [Mr. Ehrlich's]?"

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland, meanwhile, reiterated that if the Ehrlich provision succeeds, the organization would push for a court injunction forbidding the city from building new housing on the site of four high-rises being demolished. It also would prevent the construction of new housing in impoverished and mostly minority neighborhoods.

Under the tentative agreement, the city could demolish and redevelop the four high-rise sites. Half the 2,700 residences are to be replaced with specialized rental certificates. The certificates could be used only in neighborhoods in which no more than 10 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, no more than 25.9 percent are minorities, and there is little subsidized housing.

"I would say the whole plan to demolish the high-rises would be in jeopardy," said ACLU lawyer Barbara Samuels.

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