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Baltimore’s Quiet Relocation Program for Underprivileged Families Draws Ire from Suburbanites

Moving TruckThe plague of poverty has only been getting worse in Baltimore in recent years, spurred by a startling lack of employment opportunities and a declining housing market. But the Housing Authority of Baltimore City is changing that for city residents by sending them out to surrounding suburbs, according to a report from The Baltimore Sun.

Through a rent subsidy program, thousands of families have moved out of the city and into the suburbs of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, and Howard Counties. This differs from traditional public housing accommodations, which are often in inner city areas with high poverty and crime rates.

Residents in areas like Baltimore, where The Washington Post reports eviction rates are among the highest in the nation, especially need this kind of help.

Making the decision to move isn’t easy for some families, but for others it’s a necessity.

One Pew survey revealed that 44% of movers choose a new community based on job or business opportunities, which can be rare in a struggling city like Baltimore. Yet as these families in the Baltimore suburbs will note, better schools and safer areas are also enticing reasons to pack up and head to a new home.

Baltimore’s relocation program aims to do that and more, and it represents one of the largest housing relocation programs in the country. In the eight years since the program’s inception, 10,000 mostly black women and children — or about 3,100 families — who have moved from struggling urban housing units to more stable suburban ones.

Taneeka Richardson, a 32-year-old mother of four boys, is one of those women. She and her sons have seen dramatic changes in their lives since moving to Howard County.

Richardson’s children have been able to do well in school, too, in part because of the help she is able to give them with their homework.

The public housing program, which also focuses on job placement and financial coaching, allowed Richardson to get her GED and a bachelor’s degree. Today she is working towards a master’s degree in public health at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Despite the improvement Richardson and others like her have made since enrolling in the so-called “mobility” campaign, there are some officials and area residents who have expressed concerns.

Some Baltimore County officials said that the housing authority didn’t notify them that it had purchased suburban homes for public housing.

Over the past eight years, the Baltimore City Housing Authority has spent $12 million on nearly 30 houses in Baltimore County and 16 in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties. The city purchased other properties, such as a townhouse in Cockeysville, through a suburban nonprofit organization.

Throughout that time, the city has also provided about $51 million in rent subsidies to participants in the program.

“It’s being done in a subterranean manner,” County Councilman David Marks, a Republican representing Towson, told The Baltimore Sun. “There should have been some level of notification.”

However, Amy Wilkinson, fair housing director with the Housing Authority, admits that their relocation program was meant to be discreet.

“We did it very much under the radar,” Wilkinson said. “We met very early on with the county executives. They understood we had to do it. Their request was to make sure [the homes] are really scattered and make sure we do it quietly.”

Had the Housing Authority been more public about the home purchases, protests likely would have erupted in the more well-to-do areas of Maryland.

“They don’t deserve to have what my family worked hard for,” Veronica Walters, a 73-year-old retired dental assistant from Catonsville, said of the program’s recipients. “It’s a shame we didn’t know about this ahead of time. I would have been right there protesting.”

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