City ends plan to mix poor, middle class New public housing in Baltimore instead will be only for poor

July 21, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore housing officials have shelved plans to include middle-income people in the rowhouse communities that will replace the Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace housing projects.

Instead, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said Friday, only poor people will rent or buy homes in the developments.

Lafayette Courts, which had more than 800 units, was demolished a year ago. The 670-unit Lexington Terrace project is to be razed Saturday morning.

Henson said the reversal was prompted by developers who doubted that middle-class people would buy houses in a development with poor people in subsidized housing.

He also said some public housing residents and others, whom he wouldn't identify, told him they would protest attempts to integrate public housing with middle-class residents.

"Politically, I didn't think it was worth arguing that on Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace," Henson said. "I thought about pushing it. But I didn't think there was a lobby" for middle-class people wanting to live in a development with poor people.

"The history of Baltimore doesn't show a predilection to mixing race or income groups in housing," Henson said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke could not be reached for comment.

But Barbara Samuels, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said public housing residents' representatives had not opposed market-rate units in the complexes, and there had been at least the perception that the Lexington Terrace site near downtown jobs and attractions would be a desirable location for middle-class professionals.

"I think this will prove to be a mistake," Samuels said. "I don't know anyone today who advocates developing or rebuilding housing that's only for the low-income groups."

Mixed-income housing is a Clinton administration goal for replacement public housing, because it's seen as desirable to change the physical and social environment of housing complexes.

However, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said a local housing authority may return just poor people to such developments.

Residents of the developments that will replace Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace "will have a much wider spectrum of incomes" than generally found in public housing, said Christopher Hornig, a HUD official, referring to Henson's plan for adding working poor people there. "We believe in breaking up the concentrations of the very poor. What is bad is setting unrealistic goals and seeing them flop."

A number of U.S. cities are razing outdated high-rises for replacement housing that reflects a Clinton administration push

to jettison teeming "warehouses for the poor" for low-rise structures that are less-densely populated.

Under a recent settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed in January 1995 by the ACLU on behalf of black public housing tenants, the city housing department agreed to replace two other public housing developments, Flag House Courts and Murphy Homes, with mixed-income developments. Those developments are to be razed in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

There was no requirement to do so with Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace.

The ACLU suit alleged that government-imposed segregation over two generations had resulted in many black public housing residents becoming mired in poverty.

To break the cycle, ACLU lawyers proposed poor and middle-class people living side by side in more desirable city and suburban neighborhoods.

Henson said integrating the very poor and the working poor would have virtually the same result. "There will be role models" among the working poor, he said.

Samuels also criticizes the main streets that are to run through the replacement housing for Lexington Terrace and Lafayette Courts as having too many curves, making it easier for drug dealers to elude police.

However, Ted Rouse of Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, the lead partner with the city in building the replacement for Lexington Terrace, said the streets are designed to make it harder for criminals to quickly flee police.

Earlier last week, several local housing experts said they were dismayed with Henson's plan for several other reasons, including the $88 million price tag for demolition, rebuilding and associated costs at Lexington Terrace. The cost for Lafayette Courts is $115 million.

"If you're going to replace public housing with public housing, you will still have the same environment. It would be better to disperse those people into renovated houses [throughout the city]," said James Crockett, owner of a West Baltimore real estate firm and a title company.

"I just wish the money would go out in smaller chunks and help people move into the vacant houses," said Vincent P. Quayle, founder and executive director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the city's oldest nonprofit housing developer. "We could house these folks a lot less expensively in [existing] housing stock."

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