Placing poverty families in the suburbs Housing mobility: Rep. Ehrlich's pandering aside, deal addresses the counties' concerns.

April 14, 1996

MANY SUBURBAN residents are scared of what the impending relocation of up to 1,342 Baltimore public housing families will mean for them. The plan settles a racial discrimination suit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Baltimore City Housing Authority.

Some arguments against the relocation are rooted purely in prejudice and cannot be quelled with reason. Other opposition, however, is based on the genuine and rational fear that quality of life might be harmed by a well-intentioned but mismanaged program. People have witnessed government's poor track record on public housing. They are afraid this settlement merely will transplant city problems to their neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, some leaders -- notably Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-2nd -- have chosen to pander to bigotry rather than help the honestly fearful understand that this settlement, more so than any comparable arrangement in the nation, has been crafted to protect the counties.

Due largely to strenuous demands from Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has granted suburban jurisdictions unique tools and protections. HUD gave Baltimore County -- the natural destination of most city public housing residents -- the nation's first cap on the number of families allowed to relocate -- a maximum of 60 a year for six years. No family with a member who has been convicted of a violent crime or drug use will be eligible to move. The counties also will receive millions of federal dollars to provide relocated families with day care, job training and transportation, services needed to help break the cycle of welfare dependency.

This is a better deal than the counties would likely have won had they fought in court. The Ehrlich camp might argue that the settlement should be fought on philosophic, if not pragmatic, grounds. They refer to it as "social engineering." But congregating poor blacks in a few public housing complexes is a form of social engineering, too, and one that Mr. Ehrlich's allies and opponents agree has failed.

County residents in this region should feel confident that reasonable efforts have been taken to protect their interests. Perhaps this settlement can be a small step toward eliminating the poverty that breeds the crime and social ills they so fear.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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