WASHINGTON -- Officials from four of Baltimore's suburban counties yesterday urged the federal housing secretary to back away from a proposal that would allow more than 1,300 families in inner-city public housing to move to the suburbs.
In their first face-to-face meeting with U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros on the issue, they said the proposal -- part of a settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit -- could hurt the counties financially and create pockets of poverty.
"I told him that idealistically, his policy sounds like a good idea, but pragmatically, it just isn't going to work," Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said after the morning meeting in Washington.
The county officials received no assurances from Mr. Cisneros, although he said he would consider their opinions.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill a move by Maryland Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to prohibit federal funds from being used to move the families was headed for an uncertain fate. A House-Senate conference committee soon will debate the proposal as part of a housing appropriation measure -- perhaps Tuesday.
Key House Republicans lent support to his effort yesterday. Rep. Richard K. Armey of Texas, the House Republican leader, said, "I support it in every way," adding that he is "optimistic that it will be done."
The suit seeks to remedy 60 years of city housing policies that experts call among the most discriminatory in the nation. If the settlement goes through, poor families could use rent subsidies to move into low-poverty areas in the city or surrounding counties.
The Ruppersberger administration has been conducting a series of meetings to gain information before deciding whether to intervene in the lawsuit and try to block the settlement. U.S. Justice Department attorneys have refused to hand over copies of the settlement in the suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland.
"We were able to put our positions on the table so Secretary Cisneros fully understands the impact this settlement would have on Baltimore County," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "The financial impact on the county would be that we would have to fund all the social services needed to support the poor families who move out here without any indications that we would receive additional assistance from the federal government."
Representatives from Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties also attended the meeting, though Mr. Ruppersberger, the harshest critic of the settlement, was the only elected official there.
Mr. Cisneros said through a spokesman that he will consider county concerns in deciding how to proceed with the settlement.
Rep. Rick Lazio of New York, chairman of a key housing subcommittee, seemed to back up Baltimore County's position.
In some areas of the nation, the Republican said, "we have found people moving from one bad situation to another bad situation" using federal rental certificates. "The community doesn't have the jobs or the resources" to handle the influx.
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he welcomed input from suburban political leaders. But he reiterated that the city has limited defenses against the suit.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Maryland Democrat, said of Mr. Ehrlich's maneuver that it "would be very difficult to delete funding."
He added, "I hope there is a way to reach a consensus and not just dig our feet in the sand."
Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican who chairs the HUD appropriations subcommittee, said he would move to include the Ehrlich language in the spending measure if asked by the House GOP leadership and Mr. Lazio, chairman of the housing subcommittee.
Mr. Lazio, the chairman, said he would ask that "some version" of the Ehrlich language be included, but that he "would not look at it as any kind of permanent prohibition."
The senior Senate negotiators, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Missouri Republican, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat, have refused to comment on the Ehrlich proposal.