City to lose federal housing workers

Nearly three dozen workers at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Baltimore — roughly a third of the agency's workforce in Maryland — are being forced to transfer out of state or take a buyout.

The choice, which will affect 32 employees at the agency's South Howard Street field office, comes as part of a national reorganization aimed at saving about $45 million a year.

The department is consolidating workers in 50 offices nationwide who facilitate the construction and rehabilitation of multifamily housing into 10 offices, HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said Wednesday.

"It helps us with workload-balancing and to get a more efficient operation," Brown said.

The Baltimore office is among those losing workers; their function is to be performed from out of state.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said he understands the federal budget constraints, but expressed concerns about the impact the departures could have on the city.

He said the local field office was instrumental in dismantling blighted properties in Northwest Baltimore, for instance.

"This firsthand knowledge of community concerns will likely be difficult to replicate in a field office far removed from Baltimore City," Graziano said in a statement. "It is imperative that HUD work with us to address these concerns."

Agency officials have stressed that the reorganization is not related to the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, but rather long-standing budget issues. The Baltimore field office will remain open for other functions.

HUD has about 100 workers in Maryland, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

None of the employees affected by the reorganization will be laid off, officials said, but some might be offered buyouts, early retirement or transfers.

Union leaders said some employees are financially unable to move to New York, which they said is the most likely transfer point, and have raised concerns about the plan.

"There's a lot that we don't know," said Debra Walker of the American Federation of Government Employees. "Some of these employees cannot afford to live" in New York, she said.

"How are you going to manage Baltimore from New York?" she asked.

The other consolidated offices will be in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas. Satellite offices are planned for Boston, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville and Kansas City.

The restructuring is scheduled to begin in the fall and is expected to take more than two years to complete, officials said. Parts of the plan must be negotiated with unions representing the employees.

It is unclear when employees in Baltimore would be affected.

HUD announced the reorganization in late April along with the closing of several field offices located in smaller cities, including Syracuse, N.Y., and Fresno, Calif.

Nationwide, the plan will affect about 10 percent of the agency's workforce.

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