An angry but restrained crowd of about 1,500 packed Dundalk Community College's gym last night to oppose the settling of a housing discrimination suit that may move hundreds of poor black public housing families from downtown Baltimore to the suburbs.
The virtually all-white audience booed, cheered and stomped occasionally. But mostly they observed the admonitions of county Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, and Republican Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to refrain from the kind of emotional outbursts that marked similar meetings two years ago.
"We're told that poverty is responsible for everything," DePazzo said. "We blame poverty for murder, rape, filth -- it's all poverty's fault.
"The days of big spending in the name of poverty are over," he added, to cheers.
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who came to explain his efforts to oppose the agreement and then negotiate conditions to it, was cheered and booed.
All who spoke insisted that their opposition was to the idea of using taxpayers' money to move poor, jobless people to nice neighborhoods and support them when working-class older communities like Dundalk are struggling to cope with the loss thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs and an aging infrastructure.
Race, Ruppersberger said, is not the issue.
Ehrlich told the crowd that "nobody I know is against fair housing." The problem, he said, is that "this is bad policy."
He led the crowd through parts of the proposed agreement to point out items he said were harmful to communities. Then he asked people to write to U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who must decide if the settlement should become law.
The meeting was sponsored by Ehrlich, DePazzo and G. Gary Adams, president of the Greater Rosedale Community Council.
Adams didn't speak, though he said earlier that he believes "poverty is a behavior problem -- a lifestyle problem."
The only speaker to favor the settlement of the American Civil Liberties Union suit against Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was the Rev. Chester Wickwire, chaplain emeritus of Johns Hopkins University, who was jeered when he said he lives in Ruxton.
The controversy is over the proposed settlement of the federal lawsuit filed against the city and HUD last year by the ACLU, charging that racially discriminatory housing policies have concentrated poor black families in high-rise public housing in downtown Baltimore.
The settlement provides for demolition of the remaining high-rises over six years and resettlement of half the 2,700 families who live in them to the suburbs. Baltimore County is to accept no more than 360 families over six years.
A separate 814-family home-ownership program could send more families to the suburbs.
A federal court hearing on the settlement is scheduled for May 31.
Pub Date: 5/18/96