What do they need to hide? Housing settlement tramples over the Constitution

November 19, 1995|By Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

WHEN I WAS elected to Congress a year ago, I did not fully appreciate the explosive nature of the politics and extreme philosophical differences associated with housing issues. I now do. I also now realize the extreme lengths to which the Clinton administration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in particular, would go in order to conduct precarious social experiments in the guise of federal housing policy. I have had ample opportunity to witness firsthand the actions of an administration running roughshod over the

Constitution in order to forward its liberal agenda.

In January, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against HUD and the City of Baltimore on behalf of certain public housing residents claiming a 60-year history of coerced segregation in public housing. Recently, the parties disclosed the terms of a proposed partial settlement of this suit requiring 1,342 poor inner-city families -- approximately 4,000 people -- to relocate to unfamiliar communities outside the city.

My initial concern with the reported settlement is one of process. Despite the fact that jurisdictions adjacent to Baltimore City are directly impacted by the proposed settlement, no serious attempt was made to consult with or to include officials from these jurisdictions in the decision-making process. Despite published reports that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had personally informed the state's congressional delegation about the settlement prior to its being announced, I received no such notification.

Many are deeply disturbed by HUD's failure to disclose the actual proposal, and its apparent attempt to dispose of the agreement in quick fashion without the time necessary to review and comment on the proposal properly. Elected officials, citizens groups, and concerned central Marylanders are all asking -- what are HUD, Baltimore City and the ACLU hiding from us? The surreptitious manner in which this proposal has been developed has only enhanced opposition to it. These secretive tactics have undermined the spirit of regional cooperation to which Baltimore City officials have paid lip service so often in the past.

An uninspiring record

Local residents are naturally skeptical when it comes to public housing and government-provided housing assistance. The record of current and past city housing officials and the effect of HUD policies in our area justifies this view. The current criminal trial involving city housing contracts is the most recent example of abuse. The waste and mismanagement associated with the city's housing authority represents government arrogance at its

worst. The manner in which this settlement was developed only confirms that view.

For many, the ill-conceived policy espoused by this proposed settlement is the greatest cause for alarm. In simple terms, this objectionable proposal is an attempt to resurrect for the 1990s the statist, Washington-based social engineering policies which came to prominence in the 1960s.

This negotiated settlement also follows an unsettling pattern. In recent years, increasing numbers of large cities have been coerced, through judicial order, into establishing "mobility programs" which provide rental assistance with special counseling to minority families who move from inner cities to outlying communities. As a result, municipal governments have refused to build new housing, instead choosing to export poor citizens to surrounding communities to fend for themselves.

The much-criticized Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing demonstration program and this proposed settlement are both based on similarly mandated social objectives. Congress made clear its view of this approach to housing policy last year by defunding MTO, and it appears HUD is now doing its best to subvert the law by turning to the courts.

The Clinton administration, led by HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, is now utilizing class action lawsuits for pursuing its outmoded agenda and achieving similar results in cities nationwide.

The average person is likely to assume HUD and the city are unwilling defendants in this suit. In truth, HUD and the city have colluded with the ACLU to force an unwanted, unnecessary, mandated "solution" on our metropolitan region.

While I question the appropriateness of this policy, I have particularly strong concerns about the plan's potential effect on Baltimore. The jurisdictional division between Baltimore City and the surrounding counties, unique to a few areas, forms a stone wall to any hope of success in resolving the lawsuit as proposed.

Ignoring the questions

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