U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros said yesterday that he is working with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to see that Baltimore spends millions of dollars that have been earmarked for its revitalization projects.
Mr. Cisneros, addressing a two-day HUD community development forum at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore, said he is concerned and "not satisfied" with the way housing officials in Baltimore -- and other U.S. cities -- have failed to spend federal money on projects to rejuvenate urban areas.
"I am working with the mayor to see that the right team is in place for the long run," Mr. Cisneros said yesterday when asked about the millions in stagnant federal funds for Baltimore. "We want to understand how we get the dollars to the people who need them."
The Sun reported earlier this year that HUD officials ordered the city to spend millions in Community Development Block Grant funds that Baltimore housing officials had failed to spend.
In response, the city has started spending the money faster, but HUD officials said the city still has $35 million that has remained unspent from one to five years. The Sun reported earlier this week that city records show that another $16 million in city bond and tax money is unspent.
In the wake of the controversy over the unspent money, Daniel P. Henson, the city housing commissioner, is reevaluating many of the unfinished projects, which range from improvements to small neighborhood parks to renovations of vacant houses.
Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mr. Schmoke, said yesterday that the mayor and Mr. Cisneros had met to discuss a number of housing issues, and during the session the HUD secretary had not mentioned his dissatisfaction with the city's efforts to spend the federal money.
"The secretary thinks that Commissioner Henson is making a lot of progress," Mr. Coleman added.
Mr. Cisneros said that other cities have also failed to spend HUD money, mainly because of tight federal regulations.
"It would not serve us to take the money back," he said. "I'm not interested in sanctions or punitive measures over what has happened in the past -- they are out of our control."
In his speech to about 400 housing officials from 6 states attending the forum, Mr. Cisneros outlined his plans to "reinvent HUD" and shift the department's focus toward solving problems of homelessness, supporting families and rebuilding communities. He said a goal of his administration is to fill public housing with low- and middle-income residents.
He also declared that Baltimore is one of "the two or three areas in the country where we can make a difference" under the sweeping changes he is proposing at the department.
"That can happen because of Mayor Schmoke, the Enterprise Foundation [a nonprofit housing group that provides affordable housing to the poor] and the history of success here," he said.