Prince George's County yesterday won another round in its campaign to demolish Baber Village, a federally subsidized low income housing project.
A federal judge in Baltimore denied a request by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to stop the county from tearing down the remainig four buildings in the complex.
By late yesterday HUD had yet to decide on new tactics for fighting back. But there was no question in officials' minds that the department would not back down.
Baber Village has come to represent the two warring views about subsidizing housing. Prince George's County prefers scattering low-income families in apartments throughout the county, granting them vouchers for their rent payments. HUD wants to spend millions of dollars, instead, to rehabilitate the blighted and abandoned apartment complex.
"We don't want to ghetto-ize the needy. We want families to be able to live wherever they choose," explained Wayne Curry, aide to County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.
This Monday, the Circuit Court in Prince George's will rule on the county's decree to demolish the complex.
Baber Village was built in 1968 and applauded as a landmark example of cooperation between government and private enterprise. Three years later the privately owned but federally insured five-building complex and become an sore in the neighborhood.
Two and three families were living in the same unit and the density became severe. Windows were boarded up, there was a rash of vandalism, and the mothers in the complex petitioned for improvements.
Two years ago one of the buildings was demolished in midday ceremony called by county authorities to mark the end of an era. But HUD disagrees. Secretary Patricia R. Harris has made rehabilitation one of the strategies of her administration.
In her court petition, Harris asserted that the demolitiion of Baber Village would cause "irreparable injury because 130 unit s of housing available for rehabilitation and for use by low-income persons will have been destroyed with no guarantee of future federal funds to replace the loss . . ."
County officials chafe at the suggestion that their actions hurt the needy. "Prince George's has 7,000 federally subsidized units. In Montgomery County and Virginia suburbs the number is only in the hundreds.
"We have a concentration of deteriorating housing here with a neighborhood that is so disenchanged they'd probably not want anything at all," said Charles Ross, deputy director of the county's housing authority and a man who represnets HUD there.
Kelly had fought HUD on other housing issues. In 1976 he refused federal help for other privately owned but publicly insured complexes.
Once the initial controversy disappeared, Kelly found he had the support of most of the county. In this battle over Baber Village, the nearby apartment complexes are supporting Kelly as well.
"We would appreaciate some HUD sensitivity to the fact that by dumping families into a dense complex you don't help them," said Curry.