Henson dismisses Sun series, insists department is working to aid housing Problem is landlords, not demolition policy, commissioner contends

April 10, 1997|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

Bristling at a newspaper report suggesting the city's crusade to stamp out blight actually contributed to it, Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday that his department is aggressively pursuing a multi-pronged approach to shore up a sagging housing stock.

Asked to respond to issues raised in a three-part Sun series, Henson offered this assessment:

"If there is a point to the series, I don't know what it is," Henson said. "If it raised some issues, I missed them."

Henson's comments stood in contrast to those of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who said the report "underscored for us the complexity" of issues facing a city scrambling to secure a housing stock depleted by a population exodus and sagging under decades of wear and tear.

The series told how a crusade begun over a decade ago to make property owners accountable with liens and hefty interest penalties drove many from their stakes. And how a demolition campaign accelerated under Henson has helped enrich a small circle of contractors -- but has done little to revive rotting rowhouse neighborhoods while tolling liens.

The city campaign predated Henson, but has continued under him. And as Schmoke's housing commissioner, it is his job to lead a housing effort in a city dotted with as many as 40,000 vacant or decaying properties.

Point by point, he took issue with key findings in The Sun. "The problem of substandard housing in Baltimore is a much more complex problem," he concluded.

Of the demolition effort, he said: "That's not the problem. The people who owned these properties were the problem. Demolitions of these properties was not the problem, it was the solution."

He said his department waives liens "all the time" when doing so helps spur home ownership or redevelopment. "We're not going to waive liens just for a pipe dream," he added.

In a review of city records, The Sun found that fewer than two dozen applications for waivers were considered for final approval in a year.

And Henson said his department long ago began efforts -- that continue today -- to provide better service for homeowners.

For instance, he said, the department will open a one-stop shop in a few months where residents can research current lien listings, handle building permits and "anything that deals with development issues."

And he said he would continue to pursue a multi-faceted approach that focuses, among other areas, on selective demolitions, aggressive code enforcement and community planning.

Asked if he's planning any reforms as a result of the report, Henson stood his ground.

"What is it I've done wrong you want me to correct?" asked the former developer.

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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