City selects housing sites

Decree calls for 40 units outside poor areas

`Steady, slow progress'

12 houses, 11 apartments picked so far in Baltimore

August 16, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A dozen single-family houses in several mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods have been selected as residences for former tenants of the city's demolished public housing high-rises, Baltimore's housing commissioner said yesterday.

The selection of the houses - HUD-foreclosed houses that will be bought and renovated by the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center using state and federal funds - is part of the city's efforts to comply with a federal consent decree to desegregate public housing. The buildings will be managed by St. Ambrose.

In addition to the single-family homes, 11 of 109 units in a renovated garden apartment complex in Southwest Baltimore will be set aside for public housing tenants, said Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.

Together, the single-family homes and apartment units represent slightly more than half of the 40 public housing units the city agreed to create outside poor, black neighborhoods as part of a 1996 decree that partially settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has frequently criticized the decree, which was agreed to by the administration of his predecessor, Kurt L. Schmoke. But Graziano said, "We can, we must, we want to comply with our obligation."

On Wednesday, Graziano held a briefing on the status of the compliance efforts with community leaders of Northeast Baltimore, where seven of the 12 single-family houses are located.

Nearly two years ago, when the city's plan to buy 10 HUD-foreclosed homes in the area for former public housing residents became public, hundreds of Northeast residents turned out at a hastily called community meeting to voice their opposition to the plan.

O'Malley had to hurry to the meeting to quell the crowd and the city dropped the proposal. That plan was replaced by the current one, which provides for the properties to be owned and managed by St. Ambrose, not the Housing Authority, and more equitably distributes the houses throughout the city.

Besides outlining the consent decree compliance efforts, Graziano stressed other initiatives to deal with housing problems in Northeast Baltimore and elsewhere, including programs to boost homeownership and deal with vacancies, according to the commissioner and several participants.

"I think it's an incredible plan," said Caroline Queale, spokeswoman for Northeast Good Neighbors. "I think they addressed a lot of the community's concerns when this all erupted two years ago. ... They've taken a holistic approach to a lot of housing concerns."

Jeff Sattler, executive director of Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville Inc., was less positive.

"Once again, they're coming in to us with a done deal," he said.

"The concern of most people who were there is that those seven houses are not where our problems lie. Our problems lie with the existing Section 8 vouchers" for subsidized housing, he added.

Barbara A. Samuels, an attorney for the ACLU, said the selection of 23 properties represented "steady, slow progress - but progress nonetheless."

The seven single-family homes to be bought in Northeast Baltimore will be in a number of neighborhoods, including Arcadia, Cedmont and Waltherson, Graziano said. The five in other sections of the city are in Mount Washington, Locust Point, Morrell Park and in Joseph Lee and Medford/Broening in Southeast Baltimore, he said.

Two of the houses have been bought and 10 others are under option, Graziano said. The cost of buying and renovating the units will be about $120,000 each, he said.

If necessary, the city would fund market-rate purchases of houses in neighborhoods where no HUD homes were available, Graziano said.

The 11 apartment units designated for public housing tenants are in the Westover Manor complex in West Hills, which is undergoing a $1.4 million renovation using federal funds funneled through the city, the commissioner said.

In addition to the 40 public housing units outside poor, black neighborhoods the city promised to create, the consent decree also calls for the creation of nearly 2,200 rental certificates and new or renovated public housing units throughout the region.

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