Federal housing officials have told Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that he must get federal court approval to replace the Hollander Ridge public housing project with a $51.5 million "senior village."
In a largely encouraging letter, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the agency is committed to helping the city deal with "the very distressed conditions at Hollander Ridge."
But Saul Ramirez, the HUD official, laid out several conditions that the city must meet before he would consider overruling a recommendation by HUD's inspector general to rescind $20 million awarded for rebuilding Hollander Ridge.
A potentially serious roadblock is his insistence on winning approval from the judge who approved the 1996 settlement of a suit that accused the city and HUD of segregating public housing tenants for decades, a charge they denied.
In the settlement, the city agreed not to build public housing in poor high-density areas where residents are predominantly one race until it completes replacement of its four major high-rise public housing projects -- an endeavor under way.
Barbara Samuels, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which filed the suit, said she didn't know what position she would take when the city seeks court approval. But she took a dim view of the plan to demolish the 522-units of family housing on the site, which also has 478 units of housing for the elderly.
"I have not seen any logical rationale given for failing to replace any of the family units," said Samuels, claiming that the hilly site isolated on the eastern edge of the city is inappropriate for elderly housing.
"It's a bad idea," she said.
In Washington, HUD officials were optimistic about their chances in court.
"This has to be cleared," said Stan Vosper, a spokesman. "We do not feel it will be a problem."
Schmoke welcomed the letter. "It looks pretty positive that if we meet the conditions that the senior-only village will become a reality. That would be good for all the neighborhoods in that area."
The newest of Baltimore's major public housing projects, Hollander Ridge opened in 1976. It is now more than half empty, with 250 elderly units and 150 family units occupied.
Built on the city line and separated from the rest of the city by Interstate 95, the project has been a problem for residents of the adjacent Baltimore County community of Rosedale for years. They have complained of crime and vandalism spilling from Hollander Ridge into their neighborhood and of diminished property values.
In 1996, competing against other cities for HUD funds, Baltimore sought $40 million to partially demolish and rebuild the project. The city won $20 million.
HUD's inspector general recommended that the grant be rescinded, saying that the proposal didn't meet eligibility criteria for the funds and that the prospects for long-term viability of a new project on the site were slim.
That position hasn't changed, Kathy Inclan, a deputy inspector general, said yesterday. She added that the city shouldn't be allowed to radically change the plan once funds are awarded.
"That's not fair to the other cities" that competed for the money.
City officials say the senior village will be modeled on upscale retirement communities like Charlestown and offer residents a range of services, including meals and health care. In addition to the $20 million, financing for the project includes another $11 million in HUD funds designated for repairs and modernization of public housing projects; $8.8 million in state funds; and $11.6 million in low-income tax credits.
Pub Date: 6/12/98