Ex-city housing chief denies discriminatory policies

December 17, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

City officials "absolutely" did not pursue policies designed to concentrate low-income blacks in certain neighborhoods during a nearly 20-year span that ended in the mid-1980s, a former top Baltimore housing official testified in federal court yesterday.

City policies such as urban homesteading and the development of Coldspring New Town, created integrated communities where none had existed, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, who served as the housing department's deputy commissioner and commissioner from the late-1960s until the mid-1980s.

Brodie, who now heads the Baltimore Development Corp., was the city's first witness in its defense in the trial on discrimination claims brought by public housing residents against the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a lawsuit filed nearly nine years ago, the residents contend that city and federal officials have failed to dismantle the segregated system they put in place in the 1930s and have confined residents to the neediest areas by limiting public housing to poor, black areas. The city and HUD counter that concentrations of public housing residents in impoverished minority neighborhoods are a result of the city's changing demographics and broad policy decisions.

Brodie testified yesterday that city officials did their best during his tenure to use limited resources to lessen blight and create mixed-income communities.

He acknowledged that officials realized that historically African-American areas such as Mt. Winans and Upton would remain almost exclusively black after urban renewal improvements in housing, streets and sidewalks. Maintaining the communities' historic composition "from our point of view was a good thing," he said, adding that officials hoped the areas would become more attractive to middle-income residents.

In cross-examination by the residents' attorney, Barbara A. Samuels, Brodie was shown a 1970 letter to the housing department from a West Baltimore community group complaining that plans to put public housing in the mostly black Rosemont neighborhood amounted to de facto segregation.

Brodie said he disagreed with the assessment and said the housing department often had to make hard decisions to balance community concerns with the need for more housing.

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