Homeowner program for poor backed Part of suit settlement supported by officials in suburban counties

814 city families eligible

Plan would assist purchase of homes in middle-class areas

April 10, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The homeownership program announced earlier this week as part of the settlement of Baltimore's public-housing desegregation suit is drawing wide support from officials in suburban counties.

Under the program, as many as 814 Baltimore public housing families would be encouraged to move to middle-class areas, mostly in the suburbs, where they would receive help with mortgage payments. Details of the plan will be worked out over the next year by government officials, developers and public housing experts.

As opposed to the main thrust of the $300 million settlement -- which involves aiding public-housing families to rent apartments in the suburbs -- the homeowner program seems to have broad support among county officials.

Officials and public housing experts said yesterday that new homeowners would have more stake in their suburban neighborhoods. Harford County government spokesman George Harrison's comment was typical: "We always encourage home ownership. That creates a more stable environment."

Suburban officials said they even suggested the homeownership program during negotiations last year about the lawsuit.

"I don't want to take all the credit," said Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, "but it was certainly my drive on that issue."

Officials in Baltimore, Howard and Carroll counties also supported the idea of a homeownership program.

Michael H. Davis, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, said the homeownership plan made more sense than rental vouchers for suburban areas, particularly when rent in places like Columbia can be $1,200 a month. "It seems to be a much better public policy," he said.

Even with mortgage assistance, which could be higher than 70 percent a month, certain suburban areas clearly are off-limits because of costs.

"No one is going to be moving into the five-bedroom mansions that are sprouting up in the cornfields of Howard County," said Barbara Samuels, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit to break up Baltimore's concentration of public housing. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said his county provides ownership programs on a smaller scale. "I don't look at this as scary, because we are already doing it," he said.

Although Carroll County housing chief Marie Kienker questioned whether Baltimore residents would want to locate to a county with little public transportation, she said, "I certainly think it's a good direction."

The 814 eligible families who could move into their own homes are in addition to 1,342 Baltimore public housing residents who would be eligible to rent apartments in suburban areas under the terms of the agreement. Both owners and renters would move during the next six years. No one is sure at this point how many families actually will move.

Under the agreement, renters and homeowners would move to areas that have small populations of minorities and poor people -- criteria that rule out much of Baltimore City.

Housing experts say similar relocation programs have worked elsewhere, particularly Chicago.

City and federal housing officials hope to receive help from charities and county governments in the homeownership program.

Mr. Gary, who plans a project that would provide mortgage assistance to those making $20,000 to $45,000, said he hoped county residents would support the plan.

Still, many suburban residents may resent their new neighbors. Typical of that attitude is Min Recchia, a 12-year Towson resident, who said: "I would find it very hard as a homeowner who struggles to pay the mortgage and build up equity to sit back while the government hands out a house of equal value next door to me."

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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