HUD rejects revised plan for city site

Move puts in limbo $19.4 million for Hollander Ridge

3rd rejection in 5 years

Agency says officials can reapply for funds in the new fiscal year

April 24, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has rejected a revised plan by city officials to redevelop the site of the demolished Hollander Ridge public housing project in East Baltimore.

The rejection of the city's plan to build townhouses and commercial space on the site leaves in limbo millions of dollars in federal funds awarded to the city nearly five years ago.

In a letter last week, HUD said it was rescinding $19.4 million set aside to rebuild the site and would add the money to the pot of Hope VI grants available for public housing projects nationwide in the new federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The HUD letter said the city would be eligible to reapply for the funds and said the federal housing agency would be required by law to award the grant to the city if the new application was acceptable.

Even if another city application were approved, last week's rejection of the revised Hollander Ridge plan - the third for the site in five years - could mean a delay of up to one year in any use of the federal money.

HUD said in its letter that the city's revised plan for Hollander Ridge is "generally not consistent with the spirit and requirements of the Hope VI program," which is designed to eradicate and revitalize the country's most distressed public housing projects.

By making the money available for the next fiscal year, rather than the current one, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City should have "sufficient time ... to develop a meaningful and thoughtful application," HUD's letter said.

Paul T. Graziano, city housing commissioner, said yesterday he was "more puzzled than disappointed" by HUD's rejection and said he was seeking a meeting with federal officials to clarify the agency's objections to the plan.

"We don't consider it to be a closed matter," he said.

Hurriedly put together to meet a Feb. 28 HUD deadline, the revised plan also earmarked most of the $19.4 million in federal funds to overhaul the nearby Claremont Homes housing project and to finance the development of low-income housing units in up-and-coming city neighborhoods.

The revision of the city plan came after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Housing Authority could not use federal funds to build a senior village proposed on the 60-acre site at Interstate 95 and the Baltimore County line near Rosedale.

The appeals court ruled that construction of a senior village with federal funds would violate the terms of a 1996 consent decree that partially settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union charging HUD and the city with a 60-year pattern of locating new public housing units only in poor, black areas.

The revised plan for Hollander Ridge had the tentative backing of the ACLU, which had challenged the city's plan for senior housing and whose prior approval was insisted upon by HUD before the proposal would be considered.

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who was briefed by the city on its latest submission three weeks ago, said he would work to try to ensure that the city could reclaim the $19.4 million for use at the Hollander Ridge site or elsewhere, while remaining sensitive to concerns of residents of Rosedale, who had an uneasy relationship with the housing project.

"We have made a pledge to [Mayor) Martin [O'Malley] that these dollars that are needed in Baltimore should be spent in Baltimore," Ehrlich said.

In rejecting the city's revised plan for Hollander Ridge, HUD did not say explicitly what about the proposal it found objectionable. But the agency said the plan did not meet requirements HUD established in letters to the city last July, after the 4th Circuit ruling, and in January.

Among those requirements were a "detailed schedule and work plan" and "written commitments from every party whose cooperation is needed" to put the plan into effect.

Built in the mid-1970s and demolished last July, Hollander Ridge once had 1,000 units of elderly and family housing in a 19-story tower and 79 low-rise buildings.

Originally, the city proposed to modernize Hollander Ridge through renovation and some selective demolition.

Then in December 1997, it changed its mind and decided to tear down all the buildings and construct 450 units of housing for the elderly.

The city's original grant, awarded in October 1996, was for $20 million, but $600,000 of that money has been spent on planning and development costs.

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