City not up to task of relocating poor blacks

September 30, 2000|By Gregory Kane

CAROLINE Queale sat on the porch of her home, her toddler daughter Allison cooing and gurgling at her feet. Queale looked bemused as she pondered to what degree her city's leaders were cognitively challenged.

"We want something to be done right if it's going to be done in our back yard," Queale announced, indicating that she doubts Baltimore's leadership is going to do this particular thing right. The thing in question is the proposed relocation of poor black families who live in public housing to middle-class, predominantly white areas of the city. The plan is part of a consent decree crammed down Baltimore's throat from well-meaning but completely wrong lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, more commonly known as the ACLU but, in situations like this, more accurately named the AC-To-Hell-With-You.

The ACLU's intentions are good, but we all know the adage about good intentions. Years ago, the ACLU alleged in a lawsuit, the city used public housing as a means to keep poor black families segregated. Some liberal wonk thought of the "Move to Opportunity" program, which relocated poor black families to middle-class, predominantly white communities. The ACLU lawsuit was settled by a consent decree which stipulated that poor black fam- ilies in public housing must be sent to neighborhoods with a low poverty level and overrunning with Caucasians.

Let's break this down to plain English. Years ago, the government restricted where black people could live. To remedy this, those geniuses in the AC-To-Hell-With-You figure, the government must now require that some neighborhoods blacken up and reduce themselves to penury. That the government is still in the business of telling folks where they can and can't live seems lost on these champions of liberty.

The house next door to Queale's is a Department of Housing and Urban Development home on which the mortgage was foreclosed. When that happened, someone in this town must have licked his or her lips.

"Aha!" they probably said, drooling. "Here's a home we can rehabilitate, slip a poor black family living in public housing into and thus meet the requirements of the consent decree."

The same thing will happen to other properties in other city neighborhoods, some 15 in all, that will be rehabilitated for purposes of social engineering. The notion that poor blacks will somehow be miraculously transformed once they bask in the glow of middle-class whites is lost on Queale's neighbors.

"One family across the street can't afford health insurance," Queale said, casting her gaze eastward toward a house on the other side of Northway Drive in Northeast Baltimore. "One woman barely makes her mortgage payments. An elderly woman was trying to sell her house to move to a one-level home so she wouldn't have to go up and down stairs. The buyer backed out when he heard about these proposals."

Some neighbors have expressed open resentment about public-housing families moving in. Why, they ask, do they struggle to pay mortgages and make home improvements that the beneficiaries of the consent decree will get at a much lower cost?

That's a valid question. It won't be answered, of course. Anyone raising it will be accused of racism or, at the very least, being anti-poor, of implying that there is something wrong with black public-housing residents.

The uncomfortable truth is, they may be right: If you're black and find yourself living in public housing in the year 2000, there may very well be something wrong with you. Notable exceptions to that rule may exist, but they don't negate the rule. They prove it. Hundreds of blacks who lived in public housing attended night school to further educate themselves, worked overtime and second and third jobs to get out of public housing. Many of them probably live today in the middle-class black communities of Baltimore County.

Some may feel that's a harsh assessment of poor blacks who live in public housing, but think for one second: Isn't that precisely what the consent decree and the premise of the Move to Opportunity say? Don't they imply that the worst thing affecting poor black people is living with other poor black people?

Hundreds of houses in Baltimore are boarded up, waiting to be rehabilitated and occupied. But they're in neighborhoods too poor and too black, liberal wags tell us, and hence don't qualify. Not when Queale's neighborhood is ripe for the picking.

"This didn't work in Govans and Patterson Park," Queale said in explaining why she feels city officials won't get it right. She and her neighbors don't trust Baltimore leaders, not with their track record. Not with their appalling lack of knowledge about her neighborhood.

"They need to come out here and see what we're about," Queale said, adding that the neighborhood is about 30 to 35 percent minority, which includes a gay Native American and an interracial lesbian couple expecting a child.

"We just held a baby shower for them," Queale said with a touch of pride.

It's quite a pity we can't hold a common-sense shower for that crowd down at City Hall.

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