Acknowledging that Baltimore County may not be able to block a proposal to shift public housing families out of the inner city, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III yesterday outlined for the first time protections he wants in such a move.
Mr. Ruppersberger said he wants fewer, more carefully screened city resudebts spread nire evenly among suburban counties. He wants the moves spread over a much longer period of time and federal money for an extensive county support network after the moves.
In his comments, which came on a radio talk-show appearance with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Mr. Ruppersberger also seemed to concede that the proposal -- part of a legal settlement -- might be preferable to a court-imposed plan.
"Something's going to happen," he said on WJHU's Marc Steiner show. "I know that small Baltimore County is not going to be able ultimately to win when it comes to dealing with the federal government."
The proposed settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union housing segregation lawsuit against Baltimore calls for moving 1,342 public housing families to middle class, mostly white neighborhoods in the city and surrounding five counties. The city would build townhouses to help house the rest of the 2,700 families who live in high-rises that are being demolished.
Mr. Schmoke said the city's original idea was to use federal rent subsidies to relocate people displaced from the high-rises elsewhere within the city. He added, "I'm certainly willing to work with Dutch on this matter. It's not a problem that's going to go away."
After the broadcast, however, Mr. Ruppersberger said he still expects to end up in a court fight over the settlement proposal. "We're very far apart and I don't think we'll settle."
Mr. Ruppersberger said he hasn't received an opinion from Williams and Connelly, the Washington law firm hired by Baltimore County, on the county's chances of blocking the proposal in a lawsuit, but he's in no hurry. Time, he said later, is on the county's side, because it provides more chances "to articulate our proposals and our positions."
Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the ACLU in Maryland, said that screening and counseling were discussed as part of the settlement, but details have not been worked out. "A lot of those kinds of details you flesh out as you go along."
He said the ACLU is looking at the broader picture -- the growing problems with concentrations of poor, mostly black people caught in a destructive social whirlpool that is now spinning out to some county neighborhoods anyway. The question, he said, is: "How do you stop it?"
One caller to the radio show noted the damage to East Baltimore's Patterson Park area after hundreds of public housing tenants moved there with federal rent subsidies -- without the city housing agency knowing it. Mr. Schmoke said private landlords who packed tenants into the area "in an unscrupulous way" were to blame as much as the city.
Mr. Ruppersberger said that if the settlement proposal goes through, most public housing tenants who don't stay in the city will move to Baltimore County because it is closest and is on major public transportation routes.
As the county moves aggressively to confront the poverty and blight in older neighborhoods, he said the extra burden imposed by federal rent subsidies would be unfair. He said the county has 23,000 low-income renters already, including nearly 4,000 who use Section 8 subsidies, and more than 10,000 people on a waiting list for those subsidies.
As an example of what he would like to do, Mr. Ruppersberger cited a new federally mandated program that the county plans to begin in April for 250 rent-subsidized families.
The Family Self-Sufficiency project provides incentives for families who volunteer to move toward economic independence with job training or by working. As each family earns more money, the county will pay a portion of the rent and put an equal amount in escrow. After about six years, when a family becomes self-sufficient, that money could be used to buy a first house.
"We're not just dealing with housing," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "We should talk about people."