U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros said yesterday he will not halt a plan to move hundreds of Baltimore public housing families into the suburbs, but he hopes to add safeguards to limit the potential burden on counties.
Those safeguards could include the suggestions of county leaders, who have stressed the need for carefully selecting communities where tenants would move and for providing counseling and job training.
But the secretary made it clear that he would not stop the move altogether, as Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, for one, would like.
"I think under any scenario some people will move, but hopefully with better preparation, counseling, assistance and support than might otherwise have been the case," Mr. Cisneros said, declining to be more specific.
His office is negotiating with local government leaders worried about a proposal to move 1,342 families from city housing pTC projects to more affluent, largely white neighborhoods in Baltimore County and throughout the region.
The families would be given federal rent-subsidy certificates as part of a proposed settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The ++ ACLU sued the city and federal housing officials to break up the nearly all-black clusters of poor people in Baltimore housing projects.
Mr. Cisneros was in Annapolis yesterday to address a meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties, which is led by Mr. Ruppersberger, the most vocal critic of the proposed settlement.
The two men chatted amiably before the speech, and Mr. Cisneros, secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, praised Mr. Ruppersberger during his public remarks.
"I can tell you the county executive has led the way toward a very constructive discussion that puts on the table serious questions that allow us to move forward toward a better settlement of the situation," Mr. Cisneros said.
In an interview, Mr. Cisneros said he has set Dec. 8 as an "internal deadline" to reach a decision on the housing case.
Mr. Ruppersberger said he and Mr. Cisneros still have "basic philosophical differences on the best way to help people who can't help themselves. In my opinion, you don't need to transfer the problem from one area to another."
Mr. Ruppersberger said he expects to meet next week with a Washington law firm hired to advise his county on its chances of blocking the housing settlement in court.
"If I settle, it's because our attorneys advise us we cannot win the case in court and, if anything, the consequences could be worse," he said.
If the county must accept residents from city projects, he said, he wants state and federal officials to provide money to make the transition smooth. For example, the tenants should be screened with a preference for single parents with young children, he said.
He said his highest priority is that adults have a job or enter a job training program because "it's important to get a person to a level of independence." The elderly and handicapped would not have to meet such a requirement, he said.
He said he also wants the former city residents spread throughout the state, rather than concentrated in Baltimore County, which is already battling blight in some of its older neighborhoods.
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he strongly supports the idea of counseling tenants and hopes the city is given "the resources" to do so.
Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said he supports the addition of services for needy residents. But he said he could not comment further until he knew what type of screening efforts and programs are being considered.
In Howard County, officials welcomed the HUD secretary's sensitivity to county concerns but said they hope he will continue to seek their comments in the resettlement program.
Howard officials expect few families to relocate to their community, but they say that even a handful of additional people with rent subsidies could strain the county's social service resources. More than 1,200 people already are on a waiting list for so-called Section 8 housing in Howard.
"I think we ought to be involved in whatever decisions are made," Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said.