HUD gives Baltimore $21.5 million grant Funds will be used to demolish last high-rise project

September 02, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Calling it an extraordinary victory for the city, the federal housing secretary delivered a $21.5 million grant yesterday to Baltimore that will pay for the demolition of the city's last high-rise housing project.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo delivered the news to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at a U.S. Customs House news conference.

The funding will pay for the demolition of the Flag House Courts public housing project at South Abermarle and East Pratt streets; and the building of a mixed-income development of single-family rowhouses and apartments. The grant is part of $500 million in housing funds announced yesterday by the Clinton Administration.

In an upbeat and stirring address on changing the direction of the nation's public housing, the son of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo noted that Baltimore ranked first among 101 cities competing for the grants.

The award will complete a five-year, $293 million effort to knock down the city's four notorious public housing projects and replace them with low-rise communities occupied by more middle-income residents. More importantly, the funding will make the city one of the first in the nation to complete the Clinton Administration goal to demolish and rebuild all of its high-rise housing stock.

"These are cages, we built cages for people," Cuomo said, referring to the chain link fences that wrap walkways and have become trademarks of projects such as Flag House Courts. "When you put people in cages, don't be surprised if they act anti-social," suggesting another truth: The buildings have become cradles of violence.

Cuomo commended fellow Democrat Glendening -- who is seeking re-election -- as being the most committed governor to public housing in the nation. He lauded the city, state and federal governments for working together to rid Baltimore of its crime-infested subsidized housing.

"You won because you remembered the golden rule," Cuomo told a crowd about 150 listeners. "Teamwork wins championships."

The $65 million Flag House demolition will occur next summer with 338 new units completed by the year 2002, city housing leaders said.

The city has demolished the Lafayette Court homes, replacing them with Pleasant View Gardens. The former Lexington Terrace complex is being rebuilt, and the city is scheduled soon to begin knocking down Murphy Homes in West Baltimore.

Three Flag House Courts high-rise and 15 low-rise buildings with 487 units, two thirds of which are unoccupied, will be demolished on the 11.3-acre site.

They will be replaced by 140 rowhouses set aside for public housing in the community. Of those, 113 will be for rent and 27 available under a lease-purchase agreement.

Another 189 residences would be nonsubsidized, including 120 offered for rent starting at $700 a month. Another 69 will be sold. The community will also include shops, businesses and a community center.

Flag House Courts Tenants Association welcomes the renovation. But several of the remaining project occupants said yesterday that they plan to find new housing rather than return to the site.

"I could care less," said one elderly woman leaving the building who declined to give her name. "I just want to get out of here."

Residents peered from broken windows and stared through the chain link fences yesterday as city, state and federal officials celebrated the grant award with an afternoon barbecue in the development's central square.

Quintin Ray, a 29-year-old Flag House Courts father of five, said he is hoping his Section 8 voucher will soon arrive to allow him to move to another area of the city before the demolition.

"I have a large family and this isn't a place for them," Ray said. "I don't want any more projects. People shouldn't live like this."

The announcement served as a major hurdle for Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who received a standing ovation from the Customs House crowd yesterday.

"Now," Henson said. "It's time to celebrate."

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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