Race determined housing sites, researcher testifies

Predominantly black areas targeted, professor says

December 03, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The "dominant factor" in where to put single-family public housing units in Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s was race, a Cornell University researcher told a federal judge here yesterday.

Rolf Pendall, an associate professor in Cornell's Department of Regional and City Planning, said that census tracts with predominantly black populations were up to 12 times more likely to be selected as locations for individual, scattered-site housing than tracts that were mostly white. Pendall said his analysis eliminated the impact of such factors as population loss and vacancy rates.

Pendall's testimony came on the second day of a trial on discrimination claims brought by public housing residents against the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

His research came under immediate attack on cross-examination by a Justice Department lawyer representing HUD, who pointed to discrepancies in his data on population loss in two census tracts and said she had identified "about 100 more" similar mistakes. "In light of these errors in your calculation, are you willing to withdraw your testimony?" attorney Alison N. Barkoff asked sharply.

Pendall acknowledged "some mistakes" in his numbers but said he was unwilling to retract his entire testimony because he took into account other variables as well.

In their discrimination claims, filed nearly nine years ago, public housing tenants contend that the city and federal government have fostered a system of racially segregated rental units that have consigned the neediest residents to the most distressed neighborhoods. Lawyers for the tenants have said they want to create more opportunities for tenants to live in better neighborhoods in Baltimore and its suburbs.

The city and HUD counter that the concentrations of public housing residents in poor, black neighborhoods are not the result of discrimination but rather of broad policy decisions and demographic changes in the city.

At issue in the trial are Baltimore's remaining public housing units and programs administered by the housing authority and funded at least partly by HUD. They include several thousand units in low-rise developments, such as Cherry Hill and Somerset Homes, and individual scattered rowhouses as well as Section 8 rental certificates.

The trial is being heard without a jury by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who has said he wants to wrap up the case by Christmas and will issue a ruling next month.

The issue of the location of the scattered-site public housing is particularly important in the trial. To prevail, public housing residents must prove discrimination not just in the past but also in the years before their lawsuit was filed as required by the statute of limitations.

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