Housing program may face takeover

City's Section 8 rentals have deadline of June 30, HUD official says in court

`It's an obligation we ... accept'

December 05, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's troubled subsidized rental program has until June 30 to come up to standards or be taken over by the federal government, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official revealed yesterday.

The revelation that HUD officials have directed that the city's Section 8 program must "get a passing grade as soon as possible, certainly by June 30" or be put into receivership was made by William Tamburrino, the federal housing agency's local director of public housing programs, in a federal court trial.

"I have shared that with [Housing Authority of Baltimore City Executive Director] Paul Graziano," Tamburrino said as he neared the end of nearly six hours of testimony in a discrimination case brought by public housing residents against the city and the federal government.

The city's Section 8 program scored 50 points out of 100 on a recent evaluation for the period that ended in June of this year - up from five points two years ago when a blistering federal audit concluded the program was "barely functional," but still 10 points short of what HUD considers to be satisfactory.

Graziano said last night that a new monthly monitoring system indicates that the program will be "well over" the HUD passing grade by the end of the month.

"It's an obligation we understand and accept," he said. "We're confident we'll be there."

Tamburrino was the first witness called by the defense in the trial that began Monday and followed a day of testimony by a succession of residents who told of their difficulty in finding decent homes with Section 8 certificates after their public housing complexes were demolished.

His declarations on HUD's monitoring of the Section 8 program and other housing authority activities portrayed the agency as concerned with issues, including fair housing, affecting tenants and seemed designed to place the onus for any problems on the city.

But his assertions also seemed to bolster the city's contention that it has been management problems in the housing programs - not racism - that have hurt tenants.

In a lawsuit filed nearly nine years ago, public housing residents allege that city and federal officials have failed to dismantle the segregated system of public housing they set up in the 1930s and have confined residents to the neediest neighborhoods by not replacing demolished units and limiting public housing to poor, black areas.

At the end of his testimony, Tamburrino also revealed that in 2000 or 2001 he had told housing officials in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties to modify the standards they used for reasonable Section 8 rents to make more suburban apartment developments open to voucher-holders.

"It's our intention to open as many Section 8 housing choice opportunities as can occur," he said.

Earlier, Tamburrino testified that HUD had repeatedly prodded the housing authority in the 1980s and early 1990s to adhere to tenant selection policies designed to prevent racial segregation in public housing complexes.

HUD also rejected requests by the housing authority for waivers from a requirement by the federal agency that a third of the replacement units for the old Fairfield Homes housing complex in South Baltimore be located in areas with relatively low numbers of minority residents, he said.

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