Rep. Ehrlich explains his position

April 25, 1996|By Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

THE PURPOSE of this letter is to correct The Sun's April 14 editorial that mischaracterizes my opposition to the settlement of American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Baltimore's public housing authority.

Recently Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, defendants in the ACLU's housing discrimination lawsuit, gleefully announced their secretly negotiated proposal for settling the case. Normally, defendants in such lawsuits are not so overjoyed, but in this case, the ACLU and Baltimore have been working together from the outset to craft a plan which, if approved, will compel black public housing residents to relocate to overwhelmingly white suburban neighborhoods.

The terms of this settlement reflect HUD's modus operandi in cities across the country. President Clinton's HUD has taken advantage of alleged claims of discrimination by negotiating similar consent decrees which create constitutionally suspect "mobility programs." The political agenda reflected by this settlement has been denounced soundly by my constituents and in the halls of Congress. In order to shield itself from public opinion and accountability, HUD has now turned to the courts.

Rather than providing unique housing assistance to people solely based on skin color, we ought to guarantee access to self-improvement opportunities and equality under the law. Instead of focusing on individual empowerment, this settlement makes homes in middle-class areas an entitlement for a privileged few. Such a taxpayer-provided gift does not instill the values necessary to prosper in our society.

Proponents of this proposal, unable to provide a philosophical or practical defense for their plan, are retreating to ad hominem attacks on those who speak out. These misguided, and in some instances malicious, ''advocates'' create a sense of fear that silence concerned citizens, as well as civic and public leaders.

Those expressing legitimate concerns, including myself, now must answer allegations of pandering to racial prejudice. In my view, suggesting that the only way to improve the lives of black Americans is to ship them off to live in white neighborhoods is an insult to blacks everywhere.

Rather than export 2,200 black public housing families to the counties at enormous expense, we should direct our scarce, valuable government dollars to combating violent crime, improving schools, reforming welfare, renovating vacant homes, attracting small-business merchants back to town and re-establishing Baltimore as a viable economic entity.

We should not substitute one flawed housing policy for another. If this new experiment fails and additional neighborhoods suffer the plight of previous HUD-inspired efforts, where will the latest victims go for their remedy?

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.


The writer represents Maryland's 2nd congressional district.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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