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Pact May Clear Way for Public Housing Residents to Move to Suburbs

October 13, 1995

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Since she moved to the Lexington Terrace housing project four years ago, Tarsha Barnes has dreamed of the day she could take her children away from the playground shootings and the sidewalks littered with crack vials.

Under an agreement between Baltimore housing officials and the American Civil Liberties Union, she now has a chance to move to a better neighborhood, with a safer school for her children and the government paying for a home.

``Would I go?″ Barnes, 26, said Friday, surprised someone would even ask the question. ``Yes, I would.″

But the plan, which would settle a lawsuit between the ACLU and the Baltimore Housing Authority, may not do her any good.

Suburban political leaders are threatening to fight the proposal that would move 1,342 high-rise public housing families, most of them black, into largely white communities in the suburbs.

The federal government would provide up to $9.4 million per year for the next 15 years to pay for rental properties for the families.

``At no time were we consulted or at the table,″ the plan’s most vocal opponent, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said Friday on WBAL radio.

He complained that moving poor people into older sections of his county will destroy efforts to revitalize those areas. He plans to ask federal officials to block the plan.

Other suburban leaders expressed lesser misgivings. Howard County Executive Charles Ecker said he’d like settlement talks to be reopened, this time with counties involved.

``I think it’s racist,″ said Barbara McKinney, a community activist and 36-year resident of Lexington Terrace, which is to be torn down early next year. ``They think everyone in public housing is black, uneducated and poor.″

The ACLU’s lawsuit claimed the Housing Authority had segregated blacks by forcing them into projects in minority neighborhoods. As part of the suit, the ACLU threatened to stop the city from rebuilding public housing on the site of the current highrises. The settlement would remove that threat.

It still must be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said Ruppersberger’s concerns are unfounded. He pointed to the success of an earlier pilot program in which residents of another high-rise project were given the same chance to move to better neighborhoods.

As for Ruppersberger’s concerns about the mostly white communities of Dundalk and Essex in Baltimore County, Henson said, only three of the 280 families in Moving to Opportunity chose to go there.

Henson said similar programs have been successful in Chicago, Cincinnati and Yonkers, N.Y.

Though Lexington Terrace will be torn down in the spring, its residents won’t be forced to leave the neighborhood. Those who wish to stay will be placed in temporary homes by the housing commission until a new project is constructed at the site. No timetable has been set for that work.

Ms. McKinney said she’d rather stay where she is: There may be drugs and violence in her neighborhood, but at least there are no ``burning crosses.″

For those who want to go, the commission has banked $2 million for counseling on what to expect in their new neighborhoods.

Marsha Franklin, 42, says she’s ready to leave after 16 years in Lexington Terrace. Her 17-year-old son Muata was shot to death there three years ago.

``They have better everything (in the suburbs), and I want some peace and quiet″ she said. ``I want to go somewhere and live peacefully.″

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