Tax cuts aren't the only subject that President George Bush is running into opposition from members of his own party.
The Bush administration is trying to close out a multibillion-dollar program that has allotted almost $150 million to Baltimore in the past ten years to tear down old, dilapidated public housing and replace it with housing that is safer and more attractive.
Less than two weeks ago, a House subcommittee voted to extend the program, known as HOPE VI - Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere - until 2005, rather than cut it off this year, a year ahead of when it was set to expire.
That bill was pressed by a ranking Republican, Jim Leach of Iowa. On the senate side, Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, has joined with a senior Republican, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, to keep money going to the project next year.
Baltimore has been a major beneficiary of the program.
HOPE VI has helped rebuild Pleasant View Gardens (formerly Lafayette Courts), the Townes at the Terraces (formerly Lexington Terrace), Heritage Crossing (formerly Murphy Homes), Broadway Overlook (formerly Broadway Homes) and the yet-to-be-renamed Flag House Courts. Pleasant View Gardens opened in 1997, and the Townes at the Terraces opened shortly thereafter. Heritage Crossing is scheduled for completion this summer, although some units are occupied. Broadway Overlook and Flag House Courts are still in the early stages of redevelopment.
Since the program was established in 1992, HOPE VI has provided $4.8 billion nationwide to local housing authorities to demolish or revitalize their most blighted projects. It also sought to provide the opportunity to own homes to the poor and to foster more mixed-income communities.
It has torn down 115,000 public housing projects and revitalized 85,000 more.
Most of these, like the projects in Baltimore, were unsightly, decaying, crime-ridden high-rises built 30 to 50 years ago, full of overcrowded apartments and few common areas.
HOPE VI has replaced these with a mix of low-rise apartment buildings and single-family homes in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, often with sidewalks, parks and community centers.
But Bush's 2004 budget proposal included no additional money for HOPE VI.
The Bush administration recently defended the president's attempt to cut the program, saying HOPE VI originally was set to end in 2002, and that cutting it next year should not make a difference.
It would, however, make a profound difference to Baltimore, which has received more funding for HOPE VI than almost any other American city. The Bush proposal could put a stop to local redevelopments such as Cherry Hill, O'Donnell Heights and Westport/Mount Winans.
Certainly, HOPE VI has its drawbacks.
The program has demolished more housing units than it has replaced.
To create these inner-city enclaves, residents had to vacate their homes. Thousands of former high-rise public housing residents in Baltimore were forced to relocate during the HOPE VI "revitalization," closing down schools, shops and churches when the clientele moved elsewhere.
Old Town Mall became a ghost town after it lost most of its patrons when Lafayette Courts was demolished.
Plans for a supermarket fell through four times before Safeway signed a letter of intent to build a store near Pleasant View Gardens and the Townes at the Terraces last year. Losing residents invariably acts as a destabilizing force in communities.
Focus on neighborhood
Public housing redevelopment programs should focus not just on physical construction, but on the comprehensive rehabilitation of entire neighborhoods. Neighborhoods, after all, are natural environments that evolve over generations, and simply placing a new building in a dying community will not solve the complex problems that face decaying public housing.
Another concern: Although the redevelopments are visual improvements over their predecessors - with attractive landscaping, fully functioning streetlights and tenants contractually obligated to maintain their units - this might not last.
Currently, Baltimore's housing authority, the residents and the developments' private landlords are maintaining the properties. Pleasant View Gardens, for example, has employees of the housing authority patrol its grounds in a golf cart collecting scraps of trash everyday.
But what happens 10 or 15 years down the road, after the developments are no longer novel and management has changed hands several times?
Will future mayors, city council members, public housing officials, property managers and residents work to maintain a previous political generation's program? Or will today's redevelopments become tomorrow's dilapidated, ill-maintained housing, like their high-rise predecessors? Politicians have notoriously short attention spans, and Bush's proposal to cut the program made matters worse.