Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said last night that the city would try to meet its court-ordered obligation to provide opportunities for public housing residents to move to mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods by negotiating long-term leases of rental properties, and not by buying scattered-site houses.
O'Malley told a low-key meeting at Hamilton Middle School that the city would try to spread the leased units across the city.
"What we want to do is explore ways where we can enter long-term leases where the Housing Authority doesn't manage the properties," O'Malley said.
Kevin Brown, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, said later that the plan was to try to rent units in apartment buildings, but he said specifics had not been worked out.
The tenor of the town hall-like meeting -- one of a number of forums the mayor holds around the city periodically -- was in sharp contrast to the scene at the school in October, when hundreds turned out for a raucous gathering to protest a plan to buy 10 vacant houses in Northeast Baltimore and rent them to public housing residents.
In January, the city abandoned the plan, which had been part of its efforts to comply with a federal court decree to give public housing residents nearly 2,200 special rental certificates for units outside poor black neighborhoods.
Last night, many in the audience wore stickers proclaiming, "Good Neighbors Come In All Colors," and commented more on proposed library closings than housing.
"Things certainly have changed around here," said Caroline Queale, who presented O'Malley with a petition signed by 450 Northeast Baltimore residents, saying they would welcome public housing families.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union said she needed more information on the plan.
"We'll be having some discussion of what, if any, plan the city has and what the legal implications of it are," said Barbara Samuels.