120,000 units open to poor from projects Available apartments mostly are far away from current homes

Sun studied census data

1,342 black families scheduled to move as part of suit settlement

April 12, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF Michael J. Himowitz of The Sun's Electronic News Desk contributed to this article.

Public housing families who want to move to middle-income areas under a desegregation settlement announced this week should have plenty of rental housing to choose from -- but much of it will be far from their Baltimore neighborhoods.

More than 120,000 rental units are potentially available to the 1,342 black families scheduled to move to mostly white, middle-income neighborhoods over six years, according to an analysis of census data by The Sun.

"There's a very large number of units and a relatively small number of people who have to be placed," said Barbara Samuels, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which brought the suit on behalf of black Baltimore public housing residents to break up segregated pockets of poverty.

But more than 92 percent of Baltimore rental units, those best served by public transportation and often closest to public housing tenants' child care providers, will be off-limits, while almost two-thirds of suburban rental housing will be eligible.

Under the agreement, families may move only to areas where minorities make up less than 26 percent of the population, less than 10 percent of households live in poverty and no more than 5 percent live in subsidized housing.

Those criteria rule out all but a few slivers of Baltimore. Several suburban areas with ample rental housing and bus service to Baltimore also are excluded, including the Liberty Road corridor of Baltimore County, much of Essex and Middle River, and chunks of Annapolis, Bel Air, Columbia, Elkridge and Glen Burnie.

The agreement calls for demolishing dilapidated public housing high-rises by 2001; replacing them with less dense, mixed-income developments; and offering families a chance to rent privately owned units, mainly in the suburbs.

No one would be forced to move to the suburbs. Former high-rise residents could choose to stay in public housing; if suburban slots remained unfilled, other public housing tenants could use them. (Another 814 families are to become homeowners in middle-class areas in a plan yet to be devised.)

About half the potential rental units -- or 60,000 -- are inexpensive enough to qualify for the federal rent subsidy program known as Section 8, the ACLU estimates. At 30 percent annual turnover, 18,000 units would be rented in any given year.

Only 223 families a year will move from Baltimore's public housing to middle-income areas.

"I think housing is available," said P. J. Widerman, president of the Baltimore-area Apartment Builders and Owners Council. ,X "This could be a very beneficial program for both landlords and residents."

Ms. Samuels said the program's biggest challenge may be finding landlords willing to rent to Section 8 tenants. A nonprofit agency will be hired to recruit landlords and counsel tenants.

Ms. Widerman said landlords won't be asked to lower application standards, such as credit and criminal background checks. "There is no mandate for landlords to participate, and no one is mandating any of these people to move anywhere," she said.

Marie Norris, 57, moved from public housing in Cherry Hill to a Cockeysville townhouse in October as part of a Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. pilot program.

Mrs. Norris said she wanted a better school for her 11-year-old granddaughter, whom she is raising. Her worry was transportation, but she said they get along well using buses, light rail and cabs.

"It's a good move if you're interested in your children," she said. "I was concerned about the shooting and violence [in Cherry Hill]. The shopping areas are so much better out here. You don't see panhandlers like in the city. It's like going from one world to the next."

The agreement calls for just 60 families a year to move to Baltimore County, which has 51,000 eligible rental units, according to the 1990 census. Only 33 families a year may stay in the city, with fewer than 11,000 eligible units.

The remaining 130 families a year must find rental housing in other suburbs. Anne Arundel County offers the most eligible units (25,000), followed by Howard (15,755), Harford (9,175) and Carroll (8,470) counties.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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