Baltimore's housing authority yesterday unveiled a plan to demolish five crime-ridden public housing high-rises in East Baltimore and replace them with two-story buildings with fewer obstructed areas in which drug dealers can congregate.
The plan targets Lafayette Courts, at 201 Aisquith St. The city is seeking about $58 million in federal money to implement the plan, which now needs the approval of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The plans call for demolishing five of Lafayette Court's six high-rise buildings and replacing them with two-story low-rise buildings, in which each family would have a separate entrance to its apartment. A sixth high-rise there would be renovated for elderly and disabled tenants.
The plan faces an uncertain future at HUD, which has severely cut back funds to construct new public housing nationwide. A HUD spokesman said the agency authorized construction of 11,569 units in 1991 compared with 33,242 units in 1980. About 15 years have passed since HUD gave Baltimore money for new public housing for families.
The architectural drawings for the rejuvenated complex were unveiled yesterday before the housing authority's board of commissioners.
Public housing architects and engineers described the proposed complex as a series of buildings without stairwells and other obstructed areas where drug dealers can lurk. The new housing would also have private back yards that would give tenants a sense of privacy and "ownership," he said.
Housing authority spokesman Bill Toohey touted the city's plan to demolish public housing high-rise buildings as the first of its kind in the nation.
The plan was unveiled more than a year after a task force recommended moving the families out of the city's 18 public housing high-rises. Approximately 2,000 families live in the high-rises, which have been plagued by frequent shootings and drug arrests.
Yesterday's plan was called a "pilot" project, which could be duplicated at the city's other housing projects should federal money become available.
Elizabeth Wright, chairman of the Resident Advisory Board, which represents public housing tenants, said she liked the plan, but was cautious about its likelihood of getting off the ground.
"They haven't gotten it done yet. It could be two to three years to get approval by HUD. I will be checking to see if the residents at Lafayette had input in the plan and have seen the proposal," she said.
The 37-year-old Lafayette Courts, located on Aisquith Street between Orleans and Fayette streets, is now home to 816 families.
Should the project be rebuilt, Lafayette Courts would lose one-third of its current tenants, noted principal engineer Ramesh V. Panchwagh.
Consequently, one of the housing authority's most difficult tasks would be to convince HUD to finance the purchase of buildings or land elsewhere to accommodate the 252 families who would be displaced from their homes.
The Bush administration, and the Reagan administration which preceded it, authorized very little money to build new public housing. While some money for elderly housing has been available, Baltimore hasn't built public housing for families since 1976, when it constructed 1,000 homes at Hollander Ridge.
While HUD has cut out most funding for new public housing, it has continued to finance the remodeling of old public housing projects.
The city hopes get HUD's permission to use about $40 million in that so-called "modernization" money to replace, instead of rehabilitate, most of the buildings. The city would also need another $18 million from HUD to complete the project.