Letter to Henry Cisneros HUD's role: Dispersing poor from the city is a laudable goal, but it can't be business as usual.



Whether or not your scheduled address before the Maryland Association of Counties in Annapolis today centers on a housing controversy in the Baltimore region, that dispute will be foremost on the minds of a portion of the conference attendees.

No doubt you're aware of the history: As Baltimore was imploding the high-rises that have failed as "safe, secure and decent" subsidized dwellings, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city to break the concentration of poor blacks in the urban core. The city and ACLU agreed to disperse hundreds of public housing tenants, and defended their failure to bring suburban officials to the table, self-defeating though that action was.

It is a volatile issue. Last year, a furor erupted when the Moving to Opportunity housing-voucher program was announced. This time, though, you're fortunate that Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger isn't playing politics with the issue. What he wants, and what your department should help him get, are guarantees that a transfer of housing residents would only occur with tenant counseling, background checks and a guarantee that these tenants won't flood into an area. An article this week in The Sun about the problems caused by the heavy concentration of Section 8 residents in East Baltimore's Patterson Park area unsettled even supporters of the housing transfer concept because the city agency was frightfully ignorant about where tenants had relocated.

The issue is controversial. Based on past outcomes, "trust us" won't be sufficient. The region's other suburban executives must come out of hiding and join Mr. Ruppersberger in trying to face up to this difficult problem.

HUD can't stand on the sidelines, nor should it invoke a Solomon-like decree in this dispute. We urge you to use the weight of your office to play a negotiating role. A one-sided agreement won't solve anything. You've got to persuade the counties to be full participants in any eventual solution.

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