Prince George's County and federal officials have reached tentative agreement on a plan that would sharply reduce the number and size of low-income housing projects in the county -- an objective long sought by County Executive Lawrence Hogan and his predecessors.
The housing agreement, worked out by Hogan and officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, calls for the demolition of one rundown project, Baber Village, and the reduction in size of several others.
Hogan hailed the agreement as a victory for the county in its long-standing argument with HUD about how and where to house low-income people.
"We feel that HUD has finally come to realize the kind of damage a completely subsidized project can do to a neighborhood and to the people who live in it," said Hogan, whose county has more such projects than any other suburban Washington jurisdiction.
Since federally subsidized projects were built in Prince George's in the 1960s, county political leaders have attacked them. The "ghettoization" of poor people into often slum-like dwellings, county officials have argued, has given the county a bad name and deterred more expensive development throughout the county.
Throughout the debate, HUD supported the projects as the best way to provide adequate housing for the county's needy residents. As a result, even when many of the developments began to decay, federal officials rejected county demands that they be torn down.
The new agreement allows the county to tear down 250 units in two federally subsidized projects -- Pumpkin Hill in South Laurel and Gregory Estates in Seat Pleasant -- and to demolish the 200-unit Baber Village.
Hogan said no tenants will be displaced. Baber Village has been vacant in recent years awaiting restoration, and the other buildings have already been condemned or abandoned.
Terry Chisholm, the HUD official in charge of the county's projects, said yesterday that the agreement reflects a shift in federal thinking "toward a more scattered approach and a desire to look more carefully at a comprehensive strategy for housing." Added Chisholm:
"We sure as hell need to improve over what we did in that county in the 1960s."
Rather than house poor people together in a few large projects, the new plan calls for a mixture of low-income, middle-income and upper-income housing, no more than 20 percent of which would be federally subsidized.
For the last two years, the county has been unable to demolish Baber Village because of a federal court injunction obtained by HUD, which wanted to rehabilitate the structures.
Chisholm said HUD decided to approve the county's plan to raze Baber and construct a moderate- to upper-income development of town houses and a high-rise, with only 20 percent of the units federally subsidized, because "we're now looking at the whole array of housing mix" to satisfy the needs of all county residents. He said HUD will monitor the terms of the agreement to make sure that the county does not abandon efforts to provide an adequate supply of low-income housing.
To compensate for the subsidized units that the county wants to tear down, HUD will provide 300 additional "traveling" subsidy certificants that poor families can use toward the cost of an apartment anywhere in the county, Hogan said.
While Hogan called the agreement a major step forward in the revitalization of the county, black political leaders were more critical.
"I think HUD is making a big mistake," said state Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr., who represents the Baber Village area. "It sounds good to say we're going to raze those dilapidated apartments, but the poor people who need them and lived there before are being left out. This plan is designed to bring in the more affluent at the expense of the poor."
He added: "Until you show me that you're going to talk to developers and Realtors to get 5 percent poor people in all these developments, I'm not going for it. It makes more sense to raze the place and build good housing for senior citizens, the poor and some affluent people."
In addition to the Baber Village demolition, Hogan said that HUD had supported a preliminary agreement between the county and the developers of Gregory Estates in Seat Pleasant to rehabilitate 350 units at the subsidized project and eliminate 154 others. Hogan said the county also expects the number of subsidized apartments at the project to be reduced in several years from the current 100 percent.
At the 825-unit HUD-owned Pumpkin Hill project in South Laurel, Hogan said that HUD agreed to consider reducing the number of units by about 105. Since last February, when county inspectors descended on Pumpkin Hill and condemned 39 of the 69 buildings there, Hogan has wanted to raze that project. However, HUD, which took possession of the development shortly after the inspections, has spent about $1 million to pay bills and make repairs to prevent the county from razing Pumpkin Hill.