A federal judge ruled yesterday that Baltimore housing officials have the right to move ahead with plans to replace the troubled Hollander Ridge public housing complex, which has been at the center of a three-year legal fight.
City housing chief Daniel P. Henson III wants to turn the 1,000-unit development, which is deteriorating and overrun with crime, into a gated retirement village. The plan has been challenged by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, who say the city is reneging on its promise to provide quality homes for families.
But Henson and the city cleared a major hurdle yesterday when Judge Marvin J. Garbis in U.S. District Court in Baltimore modified the terms of a 1996 court decree between the ACLU and the Housing Authority. The modification allows the city to pursue a $20 million federal grant for the Hollander Ridge renovation that has been held in limbo during legal proceedings.
"So long as there is substantial community support for elderly housing on the Hollander Ridge site, the use of the site for [the elderly] is a reasonable one," Garbis wrote in a 37-page opinion.
Henson said last night that he expects the city will now get the grant.
"We believe we have met all the hurdles that were in front of us," he said. Henson said he would be meeting next week with the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to give him a copy of the judge's opinion.
The grant was awarded to the city by HUD in 1996. But the federal housing department's chief investigator later recommended canceling the award, citing poor prospects for the long-term viability of a rebuilt Hollander Ridge and deficiencies in the city's application for the funds.
City housing officials have revised their plans for the project and HUD has indicated it would approve the money if certain conditions were met. Chief among those conditions was that the city get the approval of Garbis, the federal judge overseeing the settlement of a 1996 suit between the ACLU and the city.
The suit accused the city of segregating public housing tenants for decades. As part of the settlement, the city agreed it would not use HUD funds to construct any new housing projects in poor neighborhoods until it first gave the families in those projects new housing in mixed-income areas.
Garbis ruled that the city had proven it had a right to modify the proposal because of "a change in circumstance" since the settlement was reached in 1996. The change was that the city determined Hollander Ridge wasn't viable as a site for family housing.
The Hollander Ridge development, on the eastern border of the city, has prompted numerous complaints about crime -- both from its own residents and from the adjacent Baltimore County community of Rosedale.
The community has been a source of friction between city and Baltimore County leaders, and at one point officials opted to build a giant fence around the project, dubbed "The Berlin Wall" in the judge's opinion.
Barbara Samuels, staff attorney for the ACLU, said the final decision on the Hollander Ridge matter will have to be decided by HUD.
"The court decided to let HUD decide," Samuels said. "So the Housing Authority of Baltimore City now has to convince HUD that its proposal is a good use of public money."
Pub Date: 1/27/99