Mikulski moving to save project $20 million HUD grant for Hollander Ridge might be rescinded

September 25, 1998|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said yesterday that she would move to preserve $20 million in federal funds for reconstruction of the -- Hollander Ridge public housing complex in East Baltimore -- a seeming reversal for the Maryland Democrat.

Mikulski's move came a day after her press secretary denied that she would seek congressional approval for the $20 million grant for Hollander Ridge -- money that Congress was told last week had been awarded illegally in 1996.

Susan Gaffney, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said two weeks ago that the grant should be rescinded unless lawmakers approve the award of the money.

On Wednesday, Mikulski aides insisted that the senator would not attempt to override Gaffney's recommendation or to "affirm" the 1996 grant.

Yesterday, they said that this was still the case -- but that in the event HUD Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo accepts Gaffney's recommendation to rescind the 1996 grant, Mikulski's legislation would set aside the funds for award again next year to Baltimore. To get the funds, the city would have to file a new application and meet the criteria for the funds.

But the city would be guaranteed the money even though cities usually have to compete for HUD funds to rebuild and replace public housing.

The practical effect of the Mikulski measure would be another year's delay and a requirement that the city jump through some hoops again -- but it would preserve the largest portion of the $51 million that the city says is needed to demolish the decaying, 1,000-unit Hollander Ridge project on the eastern edge of the city and replace it with a 450-unit complex for the elderly.

Mikulski hopes to include the measure in the HUD appropriation bill for the fiscal year that begins next week.

The prospects for the measure are considered good because she is the senior Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that handles the HUD budget, and as such would have considerable leverage when lawmakers craft the spending plan.

Two versions passed

The House and Senate have both passed their versions of the HUD bill. A committee of House and Senate members is expected to meet soon to reconcile differences and produce a final version for passages by both houses.

Gaffney has no authority to act on her own. She can recommend action, and it is possible that Cuomo could go ahead with the 1996 grant, even if Congress does not approve it. However, a senior HUD official suggested Wednesday that is unlikely to happen.

Mikulski vehemently denied that she has asked HUD to draft legislation "to overturn" Gaffney's recommendation, as the agency's deputy secretary Saul Ramirez Jr., had claimed.

"I am extremely disturbed the misrepresentation of this staff request," Mikulski wrote to Cuomo. "I strongly believe that the final decision and responsibility about whether to rescind the funds for Hollander Ridge rests with the Secretary of HUD."

Mona Miller, Mikulski's press secretary, said yesterday that Mikulski's legislation maintains her position that Cuomo should deal with the Gaffney recommendation "while making sure that Baltimore's interests are protected."

Meanwhile, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke expressed optimism that Baltimore ultimately will get the $20 million for Hollander Ridge.

"All the signals that we get from Secretary Cuomo's office are that he is still supportive of the grant to Baltimore, and he disagrees with the inspector general," Schmoke said yesterday.

The original plan

Initially, the city sought $40 million to demolish part of Hollander Ridge, rebuild some of it and construct 151 new houses.

After the city got half the money it sought, Gaffney concluded that the $20 million had been awarded illegally because the city had not met the criteria HUD had laid out in advance, and because a HUD consultant had said a rebuilt Hollander Ridge would not be economically viable.

With that, the city scrapped its original plan and asked HUD to approve a new community for senior citizens.

Gaffney aides said yesterday the city should not be allowed to change a plan after the multicity competition for funds had been completed.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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