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A prejudiced notion lies at the heart of a decision by Baltimore City officials to quietly spend $19 million over the past eight years to finance the purchase of 46 houses in four counties near the city to serve as public housing for Baltimore residents — that most suburban Baltimore residents are at best NIMBYs or, at worst, racist and fearful.

A Baltimore Sun investigation detailed the program in a Dec. 13 story. As The Sun story noted, the city housing authority also annually provides tens of millions of dollars in special federal rent subsidies to nearly 3,100 families who have voluntarily moved out of distressed, highly segregated city neighborhoods to more prosperous and racially diverse neighborhoods in Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel counties. As of October, most of those families — 1,131 — have moved to Baltimore County. Another 963 are in Howard County.

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Both efforts were ordered by a fair housing lawsuit, Thompson v. the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was filed in 1995 and settled three years ago. A judge ruled that HUD violated federal law by failing to take a regional approach to desegregate the city's public housing, which is still primarily located in high-poverty, black neighborhoods.

City housing authority officials have admitted that they carried out the purchases "under the radar" through a nonprofit contractor, Homes for America, to avoid sparking opposition to the program in the counties.

The whole point of the program, as city officials say, is to move people out of failed city neighborhoods into successful suburban ones — where crime is lower and public schools are better — thereby giving the subsidized residents a chance to build successful lives.

The goal is a worthy one and, according to The Sun investigation, the program is working in part because city officials provide residents counseling and help in finding employment before the move is made. The program should continue in Baltimore County and elsewhere.

But the "under-the-radar" aspect of the program has to end, in part because it unfairly excludes from the process the very people — the hard-working, employed, tax-paying people — who are responsible for building and maintaining those successful communities that city officials so covet as landing places for city residents. Those people deserve a say in this or any government-run and -enforced program that alters their neighborhoods.

Some Baltimore County officials are correctly upset by what County Council member David Marks called a "subterranean" effort in a follow-up story in The Sun that detailed county reaction to the program.

Marks also suggested the common sense notion that the program could be more assured of success if city officials would work with officials of the counties, who could suggest homes near public transit and jobs. He added that he has constituents who are living "on the margins" who also would like to move into better neighborhoods but don't qualify for the benefits the program offers.

Del. Patrick McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, has said he plans to introduce legislation in the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly to require advanced notice when the city moves public housing residents to suburban homes financed with government subsidies. He also would like to see the program do more to move city residents into strong city neighborhoods and to avoid depending too much on county neighborhoods.

"The whole idea that Baltimore County is going to be the solution of Baltimore City's problems is a failure of Baltimore's leadership," McDonough told The Sun.

The silence with which city officials have carried out this program boils down to something like the following: We agree that the suburbs are great places to live, but we don't trust the people who live in them.

That's an insult to the hard-working people whose taxes finance public housing programs, and a twisting of an open, democratic process, that shouldn't stand.

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