Will Baltimore ever get housing right?

How is a Baltimore citizen to make sense of recent Sun coverage of two momentous deals in terms of their impact on Baltimore's citizenry? The first is the preliminary approval by Baltimore City Council of what will amount to some $420 million in public assistance, tax credits and interest for creating the infrastructure for the proposed Harbor Point development ("Harbor Point bonds get OK," Aug. 13). The second, the profoundly disturbing revelation in The Sun of Baltimore's public housing agency's transfer (recently federally approved) of $6.8 million intended to assist poor families find affordable places to live, to pay off long standing court judgments for lead poisoning suffered by six former residents living in public housing ("Difficult justice," Aug. 15).

The proposed Harbor Point development has been described by one critic as "the biggest raid on the public treasury in the history of Baltimore." Supporters describe the development as a sure generator of revenues to swell the city's tax base and create thousands of jobs.

Underlying the dismayingly confusing array of facts concerning both the Harbor Point development and the recent transfer of substantial public funds intended for one public purpose to a completely different purpose, is this tragic and indisputable fact: Baltimore's housing agency reports that 41,637 households (104,092 individuals) pay more than half of their income for rent or live in severely inadequate conditions. And we know that there are today over 60 homeless shelters barely coping with families and individuals who shuttle between homelessness and squalid, provisional living conditions in the city.

Baltimore's Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano has been quoted sympathetically detailing "serious sacrifices" that had to be made and with Solomon-like practicality asserting that "there is no magic solution here." Michael Beatty, the developer of the Harbor Point's proposed development has made much of his magnanimity in voluntarily pledging $3 million to the city's Inclusionary Housing Fund.

A citizen could be forgiven for asking who are the true winners and losers in what now appears as two "done deals," and what hope is there in face of this to ever see a comprehensive and equitable citywide housing and economic development plan with the genuine promise of it being acted upon?

Jane Harrison

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