High-density public housing was a failure The Sun's...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 20, 2002

High-density public housing was a failure

The Sun's article "Housing plan found to do more harm than good" (June 28) distorted both the purpose of the HOPE VI program and its results in Baltimore.

The article would lead a reader to believe that the failure to rebuild all the more than 3,000 units that formerly housed very-low-income people in high-density neighborhoods was a bad thing.

In fact, a prime purpose of our efforts was to reduce density and to produce mixed-income communities on the sites where the high-rise developments once stood. This strategy was supported by a 1991 City Council study and overwhelmingly backed by residents and community groups during several years of site-by-site discussions on the disposition of each site.

This was also the plan agreed to in a 1995 consent decree with the American Civil Liberties Union and by the state legislature in 1993, when it granted the city $65 million to rebuild units lost by demolition.

The great majority of the residents received relocation counseling, and all of them were offered support services to assist them to become more economically self-sufficient.

And Baltimore successfully took its worst neighborhoods and turned them into some of its best in a relatively short time. Part of that strategy called for the acquisition by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) of hundreds of homes in mixed-income communities in southwest and northwest Baltimore.

Today, people paying public housing rents are living next door to people paying market-rate rents, and I have not heard a single complaint about the former public housing residents who now live in those communities. It would be difficult to support an argument that these families are not better off than they were living in the decrepit family high-rise communities.

The argument that every one of the units demolished when the high rises came down should have been replaced on site overlooks the almost 60-year history of Baltimore's attempt to cluster its poorest citizens in one place. It was a failed concept when it was hatched in 1945 (as "Baltimore's Plan for Negro Housing"), and it would have been even more egregious to repeat the mistake again.

While I support efforts to build HABC's housing stock back to its 1993 level of approximately 18,000 units, care must be taken not to re-create the pockets of poverty that existed prior to the demolition of the family high-rises.

Daniel P. Henson III

Baltimore

The writer is president the Henson Development Company Inc. and a former director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

Smart Growth in Locust Point

As a new resident, I bought a home in Locust Point to share in the neighborhood's tradition and history ("Uncomfortably on the beaten path," July 9).

Locust Point is one of the oldest pieces of land in the city -- it's where the city was born, where freedom was defended and where many immigrants came to America to build a new life.

I'm here for more than just the great location and increasing property values -- for the sense of history, shared tradition, values and community, too.

And I am very disappointed that the community association's opposition to the proposed 150-townhouse development at the former Chesapeake Paperboard factory has at least temporarily halted this proposal.

While the neighborhood's concerns about traffic congestion, property values and other issues are legitimate, they are certainly not beyond mitigation. And the city's proposed extension of Key Highway to Tide Point would alleviate a significant portion of the traffic currently on Fort Avenue and Hull Street.

While increasing property taxes can be a burden for many retired residents on fixed incomes, they are minimal in comparison to the increased value of people's homes -- some of whose values have tripled and quadrupled over the past decade.

I believe the kind of development that is coming to Locust Point is positive for the city, and is the definition of Smart Growth in Maryland.

If people want to live in the city -- own homes, pay taxes and enjoy the benefits of city living -- why should a developer not be allowed to convert unused and underutilized land and build modern, new housing?

This is the future of Baltimore. We should be proud of our tradition, and welcome new residents with open arms.

Paul Silberman

Baltimore

A stranglehold on District 41?

I was dismayed to read the July 6 article about state Sen. Clarence W. Blount's retirement and the related article about the upcoming state Senate race in the 41st District ("Blount declares end to a 32-year political career," July 6, and "Gladden joins Senate run in 41st District," July 6).

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