Henson plans to demolish housing Cherry Hill goal to increase ownership

November 16, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City plans to demolish scores of rental units in Cherry Hill Homes, the city's largest public housing project, and replace them with houses that will be sold to local residents, according to executive director Daniel P. Henson III.

Henson confirmed the plans during a meeting Thursday night with community association leaders from the 6th District. He told the group that the demolitions should be complete within a year.

"I'm not talking about something that will take years to do," Henson said in response to a question from Shephard Burge, a neighborhood newspaper publisher. "Give me one year to do this. One year."

Henson's words represent a departure from the housing authority's current efforts in Cherry Hill, which have focused on renovating existing rental units. The authority has completed modernization of 600 units in the $25 million first phase of renovations there, and the $42 million second phase, which includes 637 units, is in progress.

But Henson said he did not believe the 360 scattered units scheduled for the third and final phase of renovations were worth saving.

"We're looking at demolishing that and creating some home ownership," Henson said.

Henson said the decision to demolish was prompted by his concern about the "density of poverty" in the neighborhood, where the median household income is just over $15,000 a year. When Cherry Hill Homes is near full occupancy, public housing residents constitute about half the neighborhood's population.

Henson also said he wants to respond to Cherry Hill residents' desire -- expressed most recently in a community planning initiative -- to increase the percentage of neighborhood residences that are owner-occupied. The current percentage is about 15 percent, according to a recent study.

Buyers available

Henson said many Cherry Hill residents want to buy homes, but have few choices in the neighborhood. As evidence, he cited the successful experience of Nehemiah Homes, a 28-unit owner-occupancy development that was completed in 1994 and funded by Baltimoreans United inLeadership Development (BUILD) and the Enterprise Foundation, both nonprofit organizations. He also pointed to the advance sale of all 11 homes in Marie's Landing, a recently completed project built by close Henson associate Michael Tisdale.

Tisdale, he said, could be involved in building the new owner-occupied homes. Many of the rental units that would be demolished are across Joseph Avenue from Marie's Landing.

"There's a strong buyer's market that can't be met unless we get rid of that public housing," Henson said.

Henson's statements seemed to contradict comments made earlier this week by authority spokesman Zack Germroth, who denied that the authority was considering demolitions.

"Nothing is definitive with Cherry Hill," Germroth had said. "There is no schedule no plans to demolish. We're just kicking some ideas around."

In his remarks Thursday, which lasted about five minutes, Henson did not explain whether he would make up for the lost rental units in Cherry Hill with new ones in other parts of the city. Until July 1995, the federal government required housing authorities to replace each unit demolished, but Congress has suspended that requirement through Sept. 30, 1997.

Housing experts say the proposed demolitions are part of a trend that will reduce the number of public housing units nationwide by as many as 100,000 over the next eight years. While HUD officials have focused on demolishing high-rise projects, experts say the demolition of units in low-rise projects such as Cherry Hill's is also increasing.

Differing views

Proponents of demolitions say they make way for more diverse, less concentrated projects that help keep lower-middle-class people and their tax dollars in the cities. Critics say housing authorities across the country are creating a "human tragedy" by reducing the number of units available to the poorest people.

In Cherry Hill, Henson's plans have drawn a generally positive response. Geraldine Scott, who is active in the Cherry Hill Homes tenants' council, said she hoped the new homes would keep middle-class people in the neighborhood, but expressed concern that longtime public housing residents could be displaced.

Sixth District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who lives in the neighborhood, said he expects to see even more demolition of Cherry Hill's public housing.

He promised to "die fighting" any plans that would displace longtime residents of Cherry Hill Homes. He also said he wants 50 percent of Cherry Hill residences to be owner-occupied by 2003.

"If this community is going to move forward and be able to reach its potential," Stukes said, "it is going to have to change demographically."

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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