Getting tough on problem tenants Public housing: Clinton's guidelines allow eviction of drug dealers and criminals.

June 13, 1996

AMONG THE many disastrous legacies of the welfare dependency of the past three decades is the transformation of ** public housing from an accommodation of last resort to a permanent shelter for the poor. This changed the whole character of public housing. As poverty was concentrated and working poor moved elsewhere, formerly tidy high-rises became run-down warrens of crime and dysfunction.

During his four years in Washington, President Clinton has taken decisive steps to reform public housing. Under Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, cumbersome bureaucratic rules have been simplified to allow better local control of public housing. The administration has thrown out the window a rule that made replacing problematic public housing towers well-nigh impossible. As a result, such high-rises are coming down in many cities, including Baltimore.

The president's "one-strike-and-you're-out" order adds a potent new weapon to the arsenal of local housing authorities. "If you break the law, you no longer have a home in public housing," Mr. Clinton declared.

For far too long, personal responsibility has been absent from public housing, often creating an atmosphere of near-chaos. At Baltimore's Lexington Terrace, one tenant even called the management office and asked that a maintenance man be sent to pick up a welfare aid card she had dropped from the window of her eleventh-floor apartment.

While steps must be taken to guard against misuse, the new presidential order sets a long-overdue tone of non-tolerance of disorder. It comes at a good time for Baltimore: As the high-rise public housing projects are being replaced with more appealing garden apartments, the money will go down the drain unless the units can be protected. Making it easier to remove criminals and other problem tenants will give good and law-abiding tenants a better chance to live in a safe, clean and pleasant environment.

There is still far too much wanton destruction and vandalism of public housing going on in Baltimore. But the president's drug guidelines promise that that, too, can be diminished.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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