Unintended consequences Patterson Park: Concentration of Section 8 tenants endangers neighborhood stability.

November 30, 1995

SUN REPORTER Jim Haner's Nov. 26 article about changes brought to some Patterson Park area streets by a sudden stream of Section 8 tenants underscores the fragility of many Baltimore inner-city neighborhoods.

This should not come as news to anyone, certainly not to City Hall or housing officials. After all, the demolition in the 1960s of 971 houses to accommodate a one-mile stretch of I-170 in the Franklin Street corridor led to a heavy -- and unplanned -- concentration of uprooted families along lower Reisterstown Road and Park Heights Avenue. Decades later, the city is still trying to cope with the lasting problems and blight created by this influx.

If anything, the crowding of 736 Section 8 families into a one-square-mile community north of Patterson Park is potentially even more destructive. In an area where many houses ordinarily could be leased for under $350, the families' $600-a-month housing vouchers have made renting to Section 8 so profitable many speculators are no longer interested in ordinary working-class renters.

In a May 15 memo, Ed Rutkowski of the Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative, alerted the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to the dangers of blight. He lamented the lack of counseling for voucher recipients and wrote: "It seems to me that if we wanted to make the Section 8 program a success, we would be very demanding about the training a person must receive before being granted the privilege of a Section 8 certificate."

Because the Housing Authority does not track where the certificate-holders move, the city had no idea of the concentration of Section 8 families north of Patterson Park. The question now is what will Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III do about the situation and what steps will he take in the future, when more tenants from demolished high-rises are scattered in inner-city neighborhoods already impacted by disproportionate poverty?

If stable but fragile working-class neighborhoods are not protected against an excessive amount of subsidized housing, they will deteriorate; the city will lose more of its precarious tax base. Patterson Park's woes should prompt city and federal officials to rethink the entire operation of the Section 8 housing program.

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