City to get $300 million for housing Federal funds set to replace high-rises, relocate poor families

Desegregation settlement

Some residents to get subsidies to rent or buy in middle-class suburbs

April 08, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Larry Carson and Scott Wilson contributed to this article.

Baltimore has corralled $300 million in federal funds to replace dilapidated public housing high-rises with rowhouse communities and to house 3,200 poor black families, many in the suburbs, under an agreement reached in a desegregation lawsuit.

The partial settlement, to be unveiled today in Washington, would give two-thirds of the 3,200 families federal subsidies to rent or buy housing in mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods between this year and 2001, say sources close to the deal.

The accord makes profound changes in the way Baltimore houses the poor, and it obligates the federal government to pay for giving families a wider choice of where to live. It is expected to be a national model for public housing redevelopment and a major test of the theory that the poor are more likely to prosper if they are not surrounded by unremitting poverty.

Baltimore would become the nation's first city to demolish all its family public-housing towers. The crime-ridden high-rises have become a symbol of the nation's failure to break the cycle of poverty and dependency in which many residents are mired.

"It's not a matter now of if we demolish the high-rises and replace them, it's a matter of making it happen," said Daniel P. Henson III, Baltimore's housing commissioner. "This locks up $300 million. None of this money was a certainty to us" before the agreement.

News of a proposed settlement in October spurred angry resistance in Baltimore County. Political leaders said an influx of poor city families might plunge aging suburban neighborhoods into decline. That controversy set off a new round of talks that led to the accord being announced today.

Doris Tinsley, 43, a public housing resident and a plaintiff in the class-action suit, said: "I know it's coming to an end, but I'll believe it when I see it. The actual day I see myself going out that door, then I'll be flabbergasted."

The agreement would settle much of a lawsuit filed in January 1995 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on behalf of black public-housing tenants. The accord must be the subject of a hearing in U.S. District Court and be approved by Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

The suit alleged that the city, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development illegally segregated black public-housing tenants for six decades, which the defendants deny. It said they would "rebuild segregation for generations" and perpetuate poverty if allowed to redevelop the high-rise sites as public housing.

The agreement commits the city to finish demolishing four high-rise complexes by 2001; to break up poverty pockets by putting mixed-income housing on three sites; to offer some public-housing tenants rental subsidies good for use only in middle-class areas; and to give others the chance to become homeowners.

The first moves to the suburbs under the agreement probably would not occur for months.

The $300 million in HUD money is three times what Baltimore will get for its highly touted "empowerment zone," a designation the city won in 1994 in a nationwide competition. In addition, the state has committed $65 million and the city $35 million to relocating high-rise tenants and building new communities.

The agreement assures that the Housing Authority will have the money to put rowhouses in place of 18 towers in four complexes -- Flag House Courts and Lafayette Courts on the east side; Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes on the west side.

It also commits HUD to provide $107 million more than the $193 million originally planned. Most of the extra funds will be housing subsidies that tenants can use in middle-class areas where streets are safer and jobs are more plentiful.

The heart of the agreement has been in place since December, but federal lawyers spent months fine-tuning it before it was complete.

County wins guarantees

In meetings with city, HUD and ACLU lawyers late last year, Baltimore County won guarantees: The agreement would send no more than 60 families a year to the county as renters over six years, and none would be moved to apartment complexes where more than 20 percent of tenants already received federal rent subsidies.

Michael H. Davis, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, would not comment on the settlement, saying officials wanted to study it.

Mr. Ruppersberger has opposed moving the poor to the suburbs. The county is not a party to the suit and does not have to sign the agreement. But officials say privately there's little chance the county would sue to block it.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a freshman 2nd District Republican up for re-election this year, called the settlement "bad policy" and vowed to keep trying to cut HUD funding.

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