Baltimore Housing Roundtable Has A Bold Proposal

Baltimore Housing Roundtable Has A Bold Proposal

Above photo: March for the right to housing by HONBaltimore.

By Adam Bednar of the Daily Record.

The group, consisting of a coalition of various activist organizations, believes its report, “Community + Land + Trust: Tools for Development without Displacement,” shows a path toward a development model in Baltimore encouraging growth that doesn’t cause gentrification.

“It’s basically to put forth a new development model, essentially … to lay out a platform that leaders can pick­up and run with, can amend, etc. But we just feel like the current course is not benefitting everybody, it’s not trickling down the way it’s supposed to — to neighbors and communities,” Peter Sabonis, the report’s executive editor, said.

“The Inner Harbor and ‘Gold Coast’ development have not really pulled in the rest of the city.” The report will be officially released at 11 a.m., on Thursday at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work Auditorium downtown.

Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s most ambitious proposal is recommending the city make a massive investment in public funds to pay for affordable housing and workforce development.

The report advises Baltimore to issue $20 million in general obligations bonds, which have to be approved by voters, annually to be invested in nonprofit and community land trust through an affordable housing trust fund. It also seeks another $20 million in general obligation bonds annually to demolish vacant housing to create neighborhood based jobs completing the demolition.

Sabonis, the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative’s director of legal strategies, admits asking for $40 million in bonds annually from a city with a $65 million cap for the 2016/2017 general obligation bond referendum is ambitious. But he argued that beyond $17 million set aside for school construction, much of the expenses of recent bond issues, such as funds for property demolition, could be consolidated into the spending recommended in the report, or simply delayed.

Groups advocating for this public expenditure argue the bonds would eventually be repaid over time through bumps in property and income tax receipts created by the investment. Sabonis said now would be the time for the city to issue bonds because its scores from various bond rating agencies are the highest they’ve been in about 50 years.

This proposal comes on the heels of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings­Blake making a more modest proposal for public funding for affordable housing. In November, during a summit on her signature blight removal program Vacants to Value, she announced plans for a $6 million affordable housing fund, which would be the first in city history.

Release of the report comes just as the race to replace Rawlings­Blake in the mayor’s office is heating up. The all-important Democratic primary — the de facto election in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 10 to one — is less than four months away.

Activists are hoping to inject the issue into the election and that the report will become part of the debate. The group expects representatives from the various mayoral campaigns to attend the report release, but so far none of the candidates has endorsed its proposals.

Issues of gentrification and development incentives have become the subject of political debates in the city in recent years as areas around the Inner Harbor and downtown have attracted new residents. Meanwhile, economically disadvantaged areas of the city, especially in West Baltimore, have not experienced the same development.

Those involved with producing the report said it’s time for Baltimore to begin to address these issues, or they worry the process of gentrification in the city may get too far down the road and can’t be addressed.

“Let’s reboot our development focus that’s been very much trickle down … or it’s been very much let’s meet the needs of private capital first, or some folks with capital, who can bring some capital to the table and pair it with city funds and hope it trickles down to everybody else,” Sabonis said. “What we’ve seen in the last 40 to 50 years is that it really hasn’t done that.”

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