Homeowners in Northeast Baltimore are fighting city plans to move public housing families into their neighborhood as part of a court settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The city intends to purchase and renovate 40 homes as part of a $4.1 million effort to break up heavy concentrations of poor people. Officials have identified the first 15 properties: 13 in Northeast Baltimore, mainly in Hamilton, and two in East Baltimore near the city line.
A 1995 ACLU lawsuit accused the city of deliberate racism for confining poor, black families in dilapidated city housing projects. A federal court decree settling the suit requires that the city relocate poor families into neighborhoods that contain a minority population less than 26 percent, a poverty rate below 10 percent and subsidized housing below 5 percent.
Families who learned Monday that their neighborhoods would receive the poor families told city officials that the program will erode stable city neighborhoods.
"People are saying that if this goes through, they will definitely leave the city," said Caroline Queale, who lives on Northway Drive, next to one of the proposed properties. "What kind of social support will be given to the residents of this public housing as well as the community to ensure the success?"
At the urging of City Council members and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the city Board of Estimates deferred yesterday approving a $1.4 million city loan to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City that would begin funding the program. City Council President Sheila Dixon urged housing officials to meet over the next week with homeowners who will be affected by the plan, such as Queale.
Dixon is concerned about the plan because she said it simply shuffles the city poor. She would like to see surrounding communities take a larger role in helping house poor families from the city.
"We need to really encourage people to look at opportunity outside our community," Dixon said. "We can't continue to house all the poor in Baltimore City."
The proposed properties are on Northway Drive; Falls, Catalpha, Pilgrim and Parktrail roads; Quail and Hornel streets; and Drew, Eastbrook, Eugene, Arabia, Raspe, Bayonne and Glen Oak avenues.
Most of the properties are in an area about a mile north of Mayor Martin O'Malley's home. O'Malley was not at yesterday's board meeting. He is in Australia at the Olympics.
Conway and council members told the five-member spending board that they want assurances that the properties will be properly managed and maintained by housing authority.
"They have to put a monitoring component in place," Conway said. "If not, I can't support it."
City housing officials told the Board of Estimates that they have hired a private developer, Elite Development, to manage the properties. The city will pay $1.8 million to acquire the houses, $2.1 million to rehabilitate them and another $150,000 in development fees.
Although city officials said they and ACLU leaders have met with Northeast Baltimore community groups over the past year about the proposal, City Council members were angry to learn of the plans from constituents on Monday, two days before the Board of Estimates was to vote on the initial funding.
"I'm just finding out about it," said City Councilman Kenneth J. Harris, who represents the 3rd District. "I want to make sure that there is a mechanism in place to enforce the property management."
Five years later, the ACLU suit continues to ripple through city government. The case is credited with helping to prompt the city to demolish its four high-rise public housing projects. The projects are being replaced with mixed-income neighborhoods.
Barbara Samuels, an ACLU attorney working on the case, declined to comment on the proposal, saying she had not reviewed it.
The settlement calls for moving 117 city families throughout the Baltimore metropolitan region including the surrounding five counties. The city has demolished about 3,200 public housing units in recent years.
In 1994, the city unveiled a program called Moving To Opportunity that called for more than 1,000 poor city families to be given subsidized housing in the suburbs. About 250 families took advantage of the program before Congress killed the funding after fears that cities would dump their poor in the suburbs.
Opponents of the new plan to move families within city limits offer the same criticism.
"All of the neighbors are in an uproar," said Johanna Schollian, who lives on Orlando Avenue near a designated site. "There are a lot of people out there who have worked hard to buy their homes."
Donald F. Norris, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, supported the Moving To Opportunity program. But Norris questions conducting the same kind of effort in the city, which houses 63 percent of all Maryland families on public assistance. The key to success, Norris said, is providing families with counseling and support.
"My argument all along has been that the city needs to deconcentrate poverty," Norris said. "But it doesn't need to deconcentrate poverty within the city."
City officials see little choice in the matter. Deputy Housing Commissioner Otis Rolley said the strict requirements of the lawsuit leave the city with few neighborhoods to relocate residents.
"There are only so many areas in the city," Rolley said. "Obviously, we have to do a better job of communicating to the public that we're not dumping anybody anywhere."
The 15 properties selected are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development houses that have been foreclosed on. Families will be chosen from the pool of former high-rise residents, Rolley said.