Baltimore housing accord could be model for cities, Secretary Cisneros says $300 million settlement will help break cycle of poverty, officials say

April 09, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros said yesterday that a Baltimore agreement to demolish public-housing high-rises and relocate tenants in middle-income areas could be a model for other cities to follow.

Mr. Cisneros announced the partial settlement of a 1995 desegregation lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland against Baltimore, its housing authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agreement would guarantee $300 million in federal funds to replace four dilapidated high-rise complexes and to house 3,200 black families, two-thirds of them in mostly white, middle-income neighborhoods.

The accord, which was reported in The Sun yesterday, must be signed by a federal judge before taking effect.

Mr. Cisneros called the agreement a "triple big deal," noting that it gives Baltimore three times as much federal money as the city's 1994 designation by HUD as an "empowerment zone."

"The stakes are pretty large," Mr. Cisneros said. "If we fail at this, America's cities will become more segmented, divided by race and class."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who spoke to a celebratory news conference by telephone, said the agreement was "a great opportunity for us to show we can break the cycle of poverty."

Three public-housing tenants who were plaintiffs in the class-action suit posed for pictures with Mr. Cisneros and said they were eager for the agreement to take effect.

Isaac Neal, 59, said he was saving to buy a car. Without one, he said, he wouldn't be able to venture far from the inner city.

Now that a settlement has been reached, he said, public-housing tenants must be ready to assume the responsibility of living in "better neighborhoods."

"If people want to go to the counties, they must be prepared to live there and not go with negative attitudes," he said.

Carmen Thompson, 34, said she hoped to move to Baltimore County to find a better school for her 11-year-old son.

"This is wonderful," she said.

Mr. Cisneros said the agreement, which will be phased in over

six years, was "good for people throughout the metropolitan area of Baltimore."

But Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who opposes the plan, said the agreement "will use the Baltimore metropolitan region as the testing ground for an ill-fated experiment in social engineering."

Mr. Ehrlich issued a statement calling the settlement "bad housing policy" that "elevates race over economic status as a factor in determining where people may live and what entitlements they may receive."

Mr. Cisneros said the agreement redresses a wrong -- segregating black families in pockets of poverty -- and gives public-housing families a chance to improve their lot by living in safe communities, close to jobs and good schools.

"This will make a difference in people's lives. We know it will," he said.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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