Cash fund proposed for razing, renovating Balto. Co. officials say surplus of old housing leads to crime

May 08, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Convinced that Baltimore County has too many run-down older homes and apartments that might attract troublesome tenants, the Ruppersberger administration is moving to create a local cash fund -- free of federal constraints -- to finance demolitions and renovations.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's proposed capital budget earmarks about $4.2 million for that purpose, including $1.1 million left from bond referendums. In addition, a $2 million bond issue for community improvements will appear on November's ballot.

The move signals the county's determination to spruce up declining older neighborhoods by cutting the housing surplus and eliminating decaying low-rent apartments while encouraging homeownership. The tactics are designed to keep out bad tenants and problems such as crime, drugs and poor schools.

"The county is still strong enough to work through these problems," community conservation director P. David Fields told the County Council this week during a budget work session. But county money free of federal regulations is needed, he said, because the federal government isn't always "on the same page."

Historically, most of the county's money for housing has come from the federal government. But federal rules require that housing money be spent to build affordable or low-income housing. That, county officials believe, is counterproductive.

"We've got affordable housing coming out of our ears," Fields said, describing the county's abundance of older housing in places such as Middle River, Dundalk, Hillendale and Lansdowne.

"New affordable housing kills old stock," he said, explaining that subsidizing the cost of building housing for moderate- or low-income people undermines the value of older homes and the rental market in older neighborhoods. That in turn attracts investors who convert the homes into rental properties. An oversupply drives down rents, which often attracts less-responsible tenants.

Instead of encouraging the development of homes and apartments that might compete with homes in older neighborhoods, Fields said the county wants to reduce the number of older, run-down units, either by demolishing them or renovating apartment complexes to enlarge the size of individual apartments while reducing the number of units.

It's a view several council members endorse.

"We need to put county money into tearing down junk development," said Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, agreed, saying there "are areas we should write off -- bulldoze them down," just as a contractor is doing at the abandoned Riverdale apartments in Essex and as the county plans to do with the much smaller Savoy East apartments off Liberty Road near Randallstown.

While independent housing groups such as Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. applaud county efforts to demolish substandard buildings, they worry about the availability of good low-income housing. "Our concern is that low-income tenants may be displaced," says BNI Executive Director Joseph J. Coffey.

Jo-Ann Copes, manager of housing programs under Fields, said $1.1 million of the fund is left from a 1992 bond issue approved by the voters for use in building affordable housing. The money was never used, however, as the county's housing priorities shifted.

The proposed Ruppersberger budget contains a broader description of the ways the money can be spent. Instead of being used only "to support the private development of affordable housing," as the 1994 capital budget reads, the money can also be used "for rehabilitation or conversion of existing units."

"The idea is to broaden what we have," Copes said.

The rest of the $4.2 million fund is surplus cash being pumped into the capital budget to rebuild older neighborhoods -- including money to buy and demolish the Savoy East apartments.

"We can't predict when a Savoy East will come along," Copes said.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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