State housing aid awaits ACLU approval

Graziano says project in jeopardy without OK

March 29, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Construction of the Broadway Homes housing development is in jeopardy because the American Civil Liberties Union has not agreed to the use of state housing funds for the 166-unit project, Baltimore's housing commissioner said yesterday.

In a budget presentation before the city's Board of Estimates, Paul T. Graziano said the deadline set by Maryland officials for getting ACLU approval for the use of $7.1 million in state housing funds had passed.

If ACLU approval is not given soon - "within days, not weeks or months," he said later - Graziano told the board that he feared that the state will award the money to another jurisdiction, sounding the death knell for the East Baltimore project.

"Clearly, we are at a crossroads with Broadway," Graziano said of the $53 million development of affordable and market-rate homes. "We will need this thing to be resolved. That's the thing that weighs most heavily on us."

The ACLU needs to sign off on the use of the money because of a provision in a complex 1996 court decree over a housing discrimination lawsuit designed to give public housing residents an opportunity to live outside of impoverished, inner-city areas.

Graziano's comments were made a day after Mayor Martin O'Malley launched a verbal broadside against the ACLU, inspired by the order of a federal judge that the city and its public housing authority pay $1.1 million in legal fees stemming from the case.

Barbara A. Samuels, who has been leading the negotiations for the ACLU over Broadway Homes and other issues stemming from the decree, was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, her office said.

Susan Goering, executive director of the Maryland ACLU, said she was not familiar with the details of Broadway Homes but said negotiations had been going on for some time.

"In general, these developments are extremely complex," she said. "And typically, there are differences of opinions over what serves their interests and serves our clients' interests."

A separate dispute between the city and the ACLU delayed for months the start of construction of the $60.4 million Heritage Crossing project on the site of the old Murphy Homes in West Baltimore. Construction began there in June.

The Broadway Homes project is to be built at the site of the old Church Home Hospital at Broadway and Fayette Street.

On Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works approved the expenditure of the money for Broadway Homes, but Graziano said in an interview that the payment would be held up without the ACLU approval.

Graziano said the ACLU was trying to tie the use of state money at Broadway to unrelated issues involving redevelopment at other housing projects, such as Claremont Homes in East Baltimore.

The state money was needed to help build the 84 units of affordable housing on the site, he said, adding, "At the 11th hour, we're being held up."

Also yesterday, new city Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. told the board that key elements of his department's plan to meet its $118 million budget included a $2.5 million reduction in overtime and an increase in fees.

Fees for items ranging from $25 fire extinguisher licenses to $240 fireworks display permits would rise by 15 percent. The fee for emergency ambulance service would increase from $250 to $410 per call, department officials said.

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