Grant to help needy area families find housing City gets $2.1 million to expand counseling

November 03, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

In the latest effort to help low-income tenants find housing in middle-class neighborhoods, Baltimore has received a $2.1 million federal grant for a five-year regional counseling program, officials said.

The program, which is to include tenants in the city and suburban counties, is designed to help families with subsidized rental certificates "choose neighborhoods that offer the best housing, education and employment opportunities for them," according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development letter announcing the award.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City expects to present a final draft of its counseling plan to HUD in January and to begin serving tenants in the spring, said Gary A. Markowski, director of rental and assisted housing.

Markowski said the program expands counseling available in the Section 8 rental subsidy program. Since October 1995, Section 8 recipients have had the right to move anywhere in the United States that they can find a landlord willing to rent to them.

"It's really not a difference in philosophy," he said. "We want our families to have the full range of housing choices ."

Two efforts to break up concentrations of poverty by linking Section 8 families to landlords in middle-class areas have stirred controversy in the Baltimore region. The federal Moving to Opportunity program and the partial settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union desegregation lawsuit gave rental subsidies to tenants in poor city neighborhoods.

The regional counseling program differs significantly from those efforts. It will not provide more rental certificates, but will serve families eligible for Section 8, including suburban residents. dTC Neither will it specify that certificates be used only in middle-income or mostly white areas.

"People will be provided with opportunities but not told what to do," said Jim Kelly of HUD's Baltimore office.

However, the counseling program does spring from the same Clinton administration policy: to "deconcentrate" poverty by giving families a chance to move to areas where schools are better, streets are safer and jobs are plentiful.

HUD says the number of Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods nearly tripled, to 10.4 million, from 1970 to 1990.

The Community Assistance Network (CAN), a nonprofit, anti-poverty agency based in Baltimore County, will provide the counseling.

Robert P. Gajdys, CAN executive director, said Section 8 recipients with jobs would have priority for counseling, followed by those in education or training programs.

He said families would get help with home maintenance and budgeting, and answers to "basic questions you or I would ask if considering moving."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the 2nd District Republican who denounced the ACLU settlement as "social engineering," said the counseling initiative should not be confused with that deal or Moving to Opportunity.

But he said the Clinton administration should focus more on "training and skills so that people can lift themselves out of poverty and lift themselves out of the program. That does not seem to be the emphasis of this money nor the general housing policy."

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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