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Baltimore County officials want notice when city public housing residents move to suburbs

Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore Couty Republican.
Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore Couty Republican. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Several Baltimore County officials called Tuesday for legislation requiring advance notice when Baltimore public housing residents are going to move to suburban houses financed with government subsidies.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican who plans to introduce such a measure in the 2016 General Assembly, joined other officials in questioning why initiatives to move public housing residents into prosperous communities were not doing more to find houses in stable city neighborhoods.

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"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 said.

Over the past eight years, the city housing authority spent $19 million to finance the purchase of 46 houses in four surrounding counties and 12 in the city to serve as public housing for Baltimore residents, a Baltimore Sun investigation found.

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The 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 diverse communities. Most — 1,131 — have moved to Baltimore County as of October. Another 963 are in Howard County.

Both efforts were ordered by a landmark fair housing lawsuit, Thompson v. the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was filed in 1995 and fully 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.

One of the remedies that emerged was an effort financed by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to purchase 30 Baltimore County houses and 16 in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties, as well as those in the city.

Baltimore County officials, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, were unaware of the purchases. City housing authority officials said the purchases were carried out "under the radar" by a nonprofit contractor, Homes for America, to avoid opposition that routinely arises to scuttle such efforts.

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The city has no legal obligation to provide public notice in purchasing real estate in other localities.

Del. Robin Grammer and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, both Baltimore County Republicans, said they will support McDonough's effort to try to change that with legislation.

The three state legislators and County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, complained that their eastern Baltimore County districts already have too much subsidized housing.

But without information, they said, they could not know where the houses are located. They also want to know where the 1,131 families with the special rent subsidies have moved in Baltimore County.

"This would never happen in Hunt Valley and that's where it needs to go because of the light rail," Bevins said.

The lawmakers also questioned why the home-purchase program and the rental subsidy program have not been moving more city public housing residents into strong city neighborhoods. The housing authority has hired Homes for America to buy another 110 homes in Baltimore, in addition to the 12 that the nonprofit already operates there.

As of October there were 504 families with special rental subsidies living in the city. The subsidies are designed for higher rents such as those in suburban areas.

Since 2003, the Abell Foundation has provided $2 million to pay for security deposits for families that move to the counties, not in the city, primarily because better school performance results improves the long-term outcomes for children, said Robert C. Embry Jr., Abell's president.

Lawrence Brown, a community health and policy professor at Morgan State University, said he was troubled by the housing program's lack of focus on city neighborhoods.

"The court is saying on the one hand it wants to reduce segregation but it is doing it in a regional way while leaving Baltimore city's hyper-segregation intact," Brown said. "It incentivizes displacement out of the city as opposed to saying, 'How do we integrate neighborhoods in the city by allowing people who have been historically barred from living in communities like Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland.'"

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