Tufaro heckled over housing views

Ex-residents critical as he unveils plan at Broadway Homes

October 01, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Republican mayoral candidate David F. Tufaro received his baptism in rough-and-tumble Baltimore politics yesterday, as he was shouted down by public housing residents unhappy with his ideas for improving the city's housing stock.

The 52-year-old Roland Park developer, who is making his first bid for public office, criticized the city's public housing efforts as he spoke outside the vacant Broadway Homes complex in East Baltimore. Six former residents stood several feet away, interrupting his news conference with jeers and calling his statements "lies."

Tufaro described the demolition of vacant and public housing as a waste of money, calling for Baltimore to renovate its abandoned properties.

"Do not use my community as a political football," shouted Harry Karas, president of the Broadway Resident Council. "Did you ever spend a night in public housing? Did you ever deal with the rats and roaches?"

Initially appearing rattled by the disruption, Tufaro argued with the hecklers and later spoke with them about their differences.

"I think it's healthy," Tufaro said of the exchange. "But they have, in a sense, been bought [by] the system."

Tufaro will face Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley in the general election Nov. 2. O'Malley has said he intends to improve Baltimore neighborhoods by enforcing the federal Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which requires banks to invest in rundown neighborhoods.

Tufaro selected Broadway Homes as the place to unveil his housing initiatives because the federal government awarded Baltimore a $21.3 million grant last month to demolish and rebuild the crumbling public housing.

Tufaro, whose development company has built apartments and houses along the East Coast, decried the Broadway Homes demolition, saying the complex was only 28 years old.

"We are squandering tens of millions of dollars on housing demolition programs which could be spent far more wisely on rehabilitating existing housing for a great deal less money with less disruption to our neighborhoods in the city," Tufaro said.

As Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke steps down Dec. 7, a key legacy of his 12-year administration will be the systematic demolition of derelict city housing. In addition to imploding three of the city's high-rise housing projects, Schmoke and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III have demolished 2,500 vacant homes in the past three years. More than 10,000 more are scheduled to come down by 2004.

On Monday, a resolution was introduced in the City Council asking that the demolition be halted because the resulting vacant lots have become dumping places for trash. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Taking exception

Karas took issue with Tufaro's remarks, saying that former residents of the buildings are living in better conditions because of the city programs. He chastised Tufaro for not attending public hearings during which plans to demolish the Broadway Homes complex were discussed.

"The housing authority has made some mistakes," Karas said later, "but Henson has tried to fix the problem. They should thank him and ask him to stay."

Henson, who both mayoral candidates have said they would replace, also took exception to Tufaro's comments. Appointed housing commissioner in 1993, Henson initially tried to renovate thousands of city homes. But the former developer said he soon realized that the city spent more money renovating homes than they were worth after the repairs.

Henson then announced his initiative to demolish problem housing and reduce the city housing stock to match the loss of 350,000 residents over the past 50 years.

"Even after you fix them up, they are still substandard," Henson said of Tufaro's plan. "The economics don't work, and Tufaro should know better.

"Most of the [public] housing built from the 1940s to the 1980s is junk," he said.

Henson, Schmoke's political manager, chuckled over Tufaro's confrontation with the former Broadway Homes residents.

"He shouldn't mess with Harry [Karas]," Henson said. "I don't even mess with Harry."

But Tufaro stood his ground, blaming the city for squandering millions of dollars. Tufaro noted that the new Broadway Homes will contain 120 units, down from the 429 now there.

"That's $100,000 per unit," Tufaro said. "That's irresponsible."

Tufaro's proposals

Tufaro's housing and neighborhood plan also would:

Explore turning over management of public housing to private companies. "If the housing authority is not up to the management responsibility," Tufaro said, "then private managers should be hired to do the job."

Prohibit the use of Section 8 public housing vouchers in poor neighborhoods. Tufaro said the program aiming to get the poor out of housing projects "does more damage by allowing the number of Section 8 recipients to be concentrated in one area."

Create historic districts to allow developers to take advantage of tax credits. "Historic preservation produces economic benefits to the community in the form of higher property values."

Renew the city homestead program, which would allow people to buy city homes for $1 in return for renovating them.

Henson challenged Tufaro's call for the $1 home program, saying that most city neighborhoods are so depressed that people wouldn't buy the houses, even for $1.

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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