Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore Couty Republican.
Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore Couty Republican. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Here's a wish for the holiday season: If Del. Patrick McDonough manages to find out where poor people plan to live in Baltimore or Harford counties, he bakes them a cake, or maybe gingerbread cookies, or maybe a lasagna — anything that serves as a housewarming treat.

My wish is that as he climbs in age, McDonough becomes more gentle, and instead of criticizing efforts to better the lives of the poor, he will get involved in those efforts himself. What a stunning example he could set for others, especially during the most wonderful time of the year.

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I recognize that it will take more than wishing to get McDonough to change his ways. He's a hard guy who likes to stoke controversy. He wants nothing to do with Baltimore, from what I can see, yet he frequently comments on what happens here — not so much to improve conditions in the city, but to ridicule them.

McDonough made noise last week about the quiet movement of some of Baltimore's public housing residents into suburban neighborhoods. The effort has been underway for years because of a federal court decree aimed at busting up the city's old, segregated public housing projects. As a remedy, it called for moving people to places where they and their children will have a better shot at just about everything — housing, schools, jobs, shopping — in safer, more stable communities. People poor enough to qualify for government assistance do better in life — and eventually get off that assistance — when they and their children move to better neighborhoods.

It's one of the best anti-poverty programs we have. By now hundreds of families have used millions of dollars in federal rent subsidies to move to Baltimore and Howard counties. And because of the lack of affordable rentals in the metro area, the city housing authority financed the purchase of 58 homes in Baltimore and its 'burbs to serve as landing spots for public housing residents.

I reported on some of these efforts following April's unrest in Baltimore. But most of this has been done under the radar to avoid the ugly uproars that predictably occur whenever some nonprofit proposes building subsidized housing in suburban neighborhoods or a government agency wants to expand a voucher program to move poor people to "high opportunity" areas.

Alerted by a report in last Sunday's edition of The Baltimore Sun, here comes McDonough, demanding advance notice whenever Baltimore public housing residents intend to move to suburban houses financed with government subsidies. McDonough wants to know where the city's poorest families intend to live — and not because he wants to greet them with a fruitcake.

What he wants to do is stoke the flames of intolerance, suspicion and racism.

It's sad. It's counterproductive. It's so Pat.

What people coming out of urban poverty need is counseling, financial advice and general support — and, in fact, they get it through the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, a nonprofit established for that purpose. McDonough and all other Republicans who want to see the cycle of poverty broken should support that organization.

Instead, he just offers the low-rent response to the prospect of poor people moving to the county — the assumption that they bring trouble. In fact, according to Sun investigative reporter Doug Donovan's deep look at this issue, none of the participants in this mobility program lost their rent subsidies due to criminal activity this year.

And here's one more thing that McDonough should know: The program does not reconcentrate the poor in already poor areas. (Very few, if any, of the voucher holders or the homes bought with the help of the housing authority are located in the low-income areas of eastern Baltimore County, for instance.) The whole point is: Poor families will be better off in better-off neighborhoods.

Some Democrats don't even get that. That's why it took a federal court to make it happen.

Fifteen years ago when Martin O'Malley was mayor here, people in Northeast Baltimore got up in arms about a plan to move families from public housing high-rises to 10 homes in the Hamilton area. It was a pretty ugly scene at Hamilton Middle School with hundreds of white people shouting down housing officials who were trying to comply with the same court settlement I mentioned earlier. O'Malley placated the crowd by promising to get the city out of the consent decree.

Of course, the decree stands, and a lot of Baltimore families are better off for it.

So I hope McDonough takes my advice: Instead of baking another controversy, just bake a cake. Happy holidays, brother.

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