Public housing strategy riles Baltimore neighbors

November 09, 2000
Isaac Neal watches his three sons play on an inner-city sidewalk and dreams of a house with a tree. "I need some more space," Neal says. "I need some more green. I need some more oxygen. . . . That's what I want for my children."
      Neal knows of such a house in Northeast Baltimore. If it were his, he'd plant Kentucky bluegrass and flowers there.
      "I'll buy a lawn mower once we are blessed to move there," says Neal, who lives in subsidized housing on a poor, troubled block.
      But some Northeast Baltimore residents say they don't want Neal and other public housing families in their midst, and they made their point loudly to city officials at a recent meeting to discuss Baltimore's planned resettlement of low-income residents into middle-class neighborhoods.
      The drama here, which has created a dilemma for Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), is also being played out in places as diverse as Dallas, Allegheny County, Pa., and Chicago as the nation dismantles its disastrous public housing high-rises in favor of integrating low-income residents into mixed-income neighborhoods.
      The strategy is designed to avoid the kind of racial and economic segregation that led the American Civil Liberties Union to file suit in 1995 against Baltimore, its public housing authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
      But turning the vision into reality, as the reaction in Northeast illustrates, can produce resistance.