The New Redlining

People love data. Numbers. They paint a different, more succinct picture than words sometimes, and they can be turned into maps, infographics, and other visuals that have a bigger, faster impact. However, numbers can be manipulated in a way that allows governments and corporations to create policies that keep poor people away from things that should benefit them the most, like affordable housing developments.

Take Port Covington, for example. The hotly contested development proposed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank will be exempt from Baltimore’s inclusionary housing law, yet he has agreed to make 10% of housing in his new development “affordable”. Let’s take a look at the numbers being used to create that housing.

Baltimore City’s median income is $41,000. The Baltimore/Towson Metropolitan Statistical Area has a median income of $86,700, according to HUD. The affordable units in Port Covington will be available to those who earn 80% of the area median income, not the city’s median income. So a single person earning $46,000 a year would be eligible, and a family of four earning $65,700 a year would also be eligible.

The majority of Baltimore City residents, 58% of them, do not earn $50,000 a year. The number of people earning less than $25,000 a year is growing. Yet to calculate what will be deemed “affordable”, we’re using a number that will keep many who need affordable housing out.

Had the “affordable” determination been made using the City’s median and not the MSA’s median, it would have produced a more realistic scenario — a single person earning $32,800 would be able to rent one of the “affordable” units in Port Covington.

In order to make Baltimore’s housing truly affordable for those who need it, we must stop using numbers that aren’t reflective of our city’s population. We need to stop using incomes from the MSA, and use the income levels of our residents to determine affordability. We also need to stop allowing nonprofit groups and corporations to engage in what effectively becomes another way to redline African Americans from new developments in predominantly white communities.

Solution: Close the Tax Sale Loophole

With all of the recent discussion around collapsing vacants, negligent property owners, and the city’s tax sale system, there has been a lot of hand-wringing (and rightfully so, as someone was killed the other day when a vacant collapsed on a man while he was sitting in his car) and mutterings about tax sale foreclosures being “complicated”.

I disagree that the system is complicated — I think “convoluted and rife with fraud” would be a better way to describe what can go wrong after a tax certificate is purchased, including a large loophole in the law that allows the purchaser of the certificate to basically walk away from the whole thing, leaving the city to once again clean up the mess.

The Tax Sale Process: An Example

1234 My Street is vacant. I am the owner, and I’ve moved away, died, or otherwise have abandoned the home and haven’t paid the taxes on the home in some time. The City decides to sell my tax lien at auction.

Along comes Shadytown, LLC, the winning bidder on the tax lien. They immediately have to pay the overdue taxes plus any penalties, interest, etc. owed on the house. They can’t pay the rest of the bid price until they foreclose the right of redemption — meaning, they don’t actually own the home until they take title to the home and receive the deed from the City, if the owner doesn’t pay Shadytown, LLC the money they paid for the taxes. That money is usually increased on the part of the tax certificate buyer — interest, attorney fee, court costs, etc.

I, as the owner, have no intention to pay the taxes, interest, attorney fee, etc., to Shadytown LLC. Now we wait.

As the owner of the tax sale certificate, Shadytown LLC has to wait nine months in order to foreclose on the lien and take possession of the house. Keep in mind, after the tax sale, the taxes keep accruing, as they would for any other property. But still, Shadytown LLC has to wait to see if the original owner is going to pay. After the nine months goes by, and the original owner hasn’t paid the lien, Shadytown LLC has two years from the date of the sale,  to file a complaint for foreclosure with the Circuit Court. Still with me? I warned you, it’s convoluted.

Here’s where it gets ugly: During this time, the property is in limbo. The original owner can’t sell it and Shadytown LLC can’t do anything with it until they foreclose on the lien and pay the balance due. If they don’t pay — the property remains in limbo. And can stay that way until the City decides enough is enough and puts the property back on the tax sale list for the second time, hoping someone else wants to get entangled in this mess. The City has to wait until the two year period has elapsed, so that means another two years have gone by with that house sitting empty, deteriorating even further, creating an even bigger nuisance for the neighbors.

If you’re saying to yourself “Well it sounds like the lien holder can back out and simply walk away from the lien and the property.” — you’d be correct. There’s the loophole. There’s no penalty for the tax lien holder when he walks away from the property, except the money he paid for the back taxes. There’s no penalty for the original owner, either, except the consequence of losing his property in the first place. That’s the loophole that needs to be closed — and fast.

Consequences of the Loophole

The most obvious consequence is the fact that the ability of the tax sale purchaser to dilly-dally around and not file the foreclosure on the lien in a timely fashion, thereby leaving the property in limbo for two years. The second consequence is the absolute mess it leaves our property records in, since the original owner is listed in SDAT for years after — even when that owner died many years prior to the house falling into arrears in the first place. The third consequence is to the taxpayers of the city and state. Court costs money. Judges, clerks, etc. are not free or cheap. Nor are attorneys, whether private individuals or employed by the City. When the City has to continually put the same house up for sale over and over again — it’s costing us money. Multiply that one house by the hundreds (if not thousands) “owned” (or not actually owned, because of the loophole) by tax sale purchasers, and you’re looking at a huge waste of tax money. Money that could be spent elsewhere.

Collateral Damage

The people who suffer the most in these situations are the people who live near these homes. They trust that state information is correct, so they go to SDAT and look up the owner of a property and file a 311 or other complaint with the City. Unbeknownst to them, however, that information is wrong more often than not, because of the “limbo status” of the home. Nobody’s being held responsible for the upkeep of the home, and many times, nobody ever will.

What Now?

Closing that Limbo Loophole (as I like to call it) would allow our property records to be updated after the nine-month waiting period between the purchase of the tax lien and the foreclosing of the lien. During the remainder of the two year period, if you hold the tax certificate, you become the owner of record, and therefore are liable for maintenance on the home. The City would report the sale of the tax lien to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, who would then update the property records to reflect your ownership. If, after the two year period for foreclosure lapses, the ownership would revert to the City and they could sell it again at auction, hoping for a better buyer the second time around. This would produce a chain of ownership, albeit temporary, but would add a layer of accountability we currently aren’t seeing. I daresay that added layer of accountability would prevent some current tax sale purchasers from continuing the process of buying tax certificates and walking away, and it would add a sense of urgency to maintaining the structural condition of the property so we don’t have more residents being killed underneath toppling vacants.

The Housing Questionnaires: Lessons Learned

It’s always interesting to ask a random group of people the same questions and see what you get back. I guarantee at the very least, you won’t be bored. Hopefully you’ll even be enlightened at the end of the process.

Candidate surveys and politics in general are two things I tend to stay away from, particularly now, because things just get so…ugly. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the overwhelming majority of candidates who were thoughtful and polite, who didn’t take potshots at the competition in their survey responses, and who responded within the deadline.

A bit about the questionnaire

The questions and survey deadlines were developed to determine several things:

A few of the questions asked were phrased to see if the candidates understood the laws that govern their job, and the extent of their reach/ability to make certain changes in government. Many candidates appeared to understand their constraints — in fact, a few pointed out that X or Y was outside the control of the office they were seeking. However, a few candidates seemed to be confused as to which office they were actually running for, given their broad responses. A few also seemed to not know the difference between the city’s Housing Authority and Baltimore Housing, which despite being under singular leadership, are in fact two separate bodies with two separate purposes.

A bit about the candidates and their responses (or lack thereof)

The deadline for each group of candidates was clearly stated in the emails. Holding elected office is a 24-hour job, 365 days a week, if it’s done correctly. Constituents don’t care if you’re on vacation, if your cat died, or if you broke a nail and had to spend 4 hours at the Urgent Care. Constituents in Baltimore City have long been ignored by many of their elected officials, and I wanted to see how many people would:

  1. Ignore the questionnaire altogether
  2. Ignore the deadline and cite reasons for not responding in a timely fashion
  3. Argue about whether or not the deadline was reasonable
  4. Change the questions or refuse to answer them as worded
  5. Respond in a timely fashion, answering the questions completely.

Obviously number 5 above was the desired outcome. Few candidates argued about the deadline, though a few did ignore the deadline and gave reasons for not responding. Many candidates, sadly, ignored the questionnaire altogether and did not respond at all. This included most of the “well-known” mayoral candidates and many of the City Council candidates across all of the districts. In Districts 5, 9, and 13, no candidates responded. One mayoral candidate refused to answer the questions given, and instead, provided a lengthy essay that had very little to do with housing; and another mayoral candidate changed the questions, didn’t answer them completely, and then argued for weeks after that her responses should have been included.

A few mayoral candidates apparently had staff communication issues that precluded them from responding. Overall, the communication issues (or lack of communication altogether), argumentative nature of some of the candidates/campaign staff, and a seeming disregard for voters indicated to me that some of these folks simply shouldn’t be running for public office — it felt as though they’re looking to simply collect a paycheck, or use Baltimore as a stepping stone to Annapolis or DC.

Thankfully, we did receive some really thoughtful, solid responses from each group of candidates (Mayoral, City Council President, and City Council). Many of the best-written responses came from outlier candidates who have never before held public office, and had little name recognition. Seeing how much time and thought they put into their answers gave me hope for the future of our city — we need more people like this in our government.

This is an important election cycle for Baltimore City. Thank you to all of the candidates who responded. It was great “meeting” many of you and hearing what you had to say about the state of housing in our city. Best of luck to all the candidates, and here’s to a stronger, safer city for all of us.

 

District 14 City Council Candidates on Housing

Three candidates, including the incumbent City Councilwoman for District 14, responded to the housing questionnaire. Two of the candidate response pages are linked below:

Mary Pat Clarke (incumbent)

David Harding

One candidate, Tom Boyce, sent me an email that simply said “Dear Carol, I don’t know.” in response to the questionnaire. When I replied, asking if perhaps he needed assistance, I didn’t receive a response.

The following candidates did not respond: Terrell Williams and Tia Hamilton.

 

 

District 14 City Council Candidate David Harding on Housing

David Harding was the second District 14 candidate to respond to the questionnaire. His answers are below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. How do you intend to clean up blight in your district that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

I support the residents of Poppleton who have been organizing to stop the spreading of the Biopark. And I would use the City Council office to encourage exactly that kind of organizing. It’s first of all, a fight to be able to stay in their homes – to not be pushed out. Keeping people in their homes stops blight. But it’s also an example of ordinary people standing up to powerful interests that suck the blood from the city. In this case, it’s the Blackstone Group. In March, the City Council voted to grant this billionaire company a 17.5 million dollar TIF for the Biopark.

I would do exactly the opposite in the City Council. Not only would I vote “no” to every TIF, PILOT, Enterprise Zone, and other form of corporate welfare. I would also publicize – actively — every slimy deal that the City Council is considering. I would do it quickly, so that the residents hear about it before the City Council vote is taken. And I would make all the resources of the City Council office available to residents who want to stand up, whether they live in District 14 or in other parts of the city.

Blight isn’t an accident. It’s a conscious policy decision. There’s an overall lack of enforcement against landlords, both for their vacant and their occupied properties. Neighborhoods are allowed to deteriorate. Then after they somehow “become” deteriorated, they are handed to a developer in the name of saving them. But those hundreds of millions of dollars that go to the developers could instead be used to hire directly. We’re never going to fix 30,000 vacant homes with a couple hundred employees. The city needs tens of thousands of employees. And it could hire that many, and with decent pay – with the money that now goes to developers.

2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn 75,000 and up, and those who earn 25,000 and below. The middle class is stagnating, and struggling to afford rental housing. How do you propose to keep median-income renters from leaving the city without pushing them into homeownership they may not want or be able to afford?

You’re asking the wrong question. The right question is why the City Council allows wages that low in the first place. We all know that $12 an hour, or even $15 an hour can’t begin to pay the rent. The City Council could certainly take up the question of the minimum wage. But it hasn’t looked in that direction. Just like it continues to feed city tax breaks to companies that pay workers poverty wages, even while these same companies drive up the cost of housing.

The City Council could take a completely different approach by using city money to hire city employees at decent wages. It was mentioned in a recent City Paper column that in the past seven years, not one single student in the Reach Partnership High School trades program has been placed in a trade-related job. And yet it’s the city that owns more vacant properties than any individual landlord or LLC. The city could solve both problems by hiring these trade school graduates at decent wages. When people have money, they can spend it at stores, restaurants and other small businesses. When small businesses have customers, then they too can hire. The city itself could become an engine for economic growth — if it turned its budget priorities in a completely different direction.

3. Our Housing Authority has a decades-long reputation for corruption and incompetence at its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?

It’s not incompetence. It’s policy. The Housing Authority has been following in the footsteps of the City Council. The Housing Authority, for example, is selling off 40 percent of its housing stock to private developers. These fire-sales are happening at hundreds of millions of dollars below market value. Plus, the developers will get hundreds of millions of dollars of property tax breaks over decades. The deal was made in secret. Sun reporters only discovered it months later, after digging around for the records.

Is it corrupt? Absolutely! But not one shade different from what the City Council has approved, catering to every whim of developers. It was the City Council that approved a 40 million dollar tax break to Amazon, and approved a TIF of 70 million for Paterakis at Harbor Point. They gave away millions more for the Convention Center and the Casino. The City Council could have opposed all of these – and it chose not to. And now they’re working out the details of the TIF to Kevin Plank’s Port Covington. It’s a record setting request – over half a billion dollars. To put it in perspective, the entire 2015 operating budget of the city of Baltimore is only 2.2 billion.

I would oppose all these TIF’s which are a public subsidy to billionaires. TIF’s force the city to starve its operating budget – the part of the budget that serves ordinary people. The library branch closings in 2003, the fire station closings in 2012, the recreation center closings were all due supposed budget crises. Of course it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a death by a thousand cuts. The city closed ten neighborhood branch libraries and later opened one new “regional” library in Highlandtown. But the total library system operating budget is reduced. Schools lose their heat and it never gets fixed. Water pipes go yet another year without replacement and then break. Temporary city hiring freezes become virtually permanent. All to feed the unlimited appetite of a few billionaires who would dare to blackmail the city, threatening to take their business out of the city if they don’t get tax breaks. It’s a spending policy that puts Baltimore on a race to the bottom – a race to become the next major city to file for bankruptcy.

4. Its been said that Baltimore’s tax sale process is burdensome to seniors and low-income residents, forcing many out of homes. How do you plan to make this process easier for those who are struggling to pay for their water bills and property taxes, and how would you better structure the city’s tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?

You’re looking for a more gentle way to kick retirees to the street. I’m not. I’m opposed to tax sales on any owner-occupied property and would try to stop them on the City Council. Stopping them would be an immediate step the City Council could take to reduce blight.

Look what happened when RG Steel went for several years without paying its water bill, until the bill grew to seven million dollars. Did the city proceed with a tax sale? Think again! RG Steel walked away, leaving the city with the unpaid water bill, plus site cleanup costs of hundreds of millions of dollars.

And yet for residents, water bills have doubled in a couple years. Property tax bills for ordinary people have increased. When bills go up, and wages stay the same, it’s inevitable that some won’t be able to pay. And who is that likely to be? Those with disabled children, those whose retirements were stolen by Bethlehem Steel, General Motors, and Western Electric; those who may have worked their entire lives for the city but were denied a permanent job with benefits.

Already victims, the city will then victimize them further by selling that debt to an “investor” who will gouge them for additional interest and fees. A $500 city water bill turns into a $3,000 private debt with the threat of foreclosure. If they can’t pay it, they not only lose the roof over their head, but all the equity they’ve paid on the mortgage. The property ends up vacant. And that brings down the standard of living of the whole neighborhood.

5. If you plan to introduce a reduction in property taxes, please indicate that, but also indicate how you plan to make up for the lost revenue.

[Please note, Mr. Harding skipped this question entirely and offered no response.]

6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?

I propose not to enforce it. It’s another law that was written by the developers, for the developers. It creates public housing, but not the kind of public housing we need. It creates publicly paid, luxury housing for the very wealthy. The number of so called “affordable” units the law created was 32. We need real public housing – housing that’s comfortable and affordable by a worker’s standard.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 14?

I understand that one person, or even a couple people on the City Council can’t take down the developers and the big banks that are behind them. But the working people of Baltimore have every reason to stand up against these billionaires who are parasites on the city. Working people have been living in the city, paying taxes here, paying their rent and mortgage, making the city run for decades – for generations. They have every reason to stay. They have every reason to stand up against anyone who would try to push them out. And I would use the City Council office to support every fight, to give out all the information possible, and to open up the office for their use to organize.

District 14 City Council Candidate Mary Pat Clarke on Housing

Mary Pat Clarke, the incumbent Councilwoman for District 14, was the first to respond to our questionnaire. Her answers appear below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant houses. How do you intend to clean up blight in your district that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Baltimore City requires a plan of action to eliminate blight effectively and for keeps. Best planning partners are the city’s urban renewal area leaders and residents. Traditionally the city’s most blighted and impoverished areas, urban renewal neighborhoods were once funded annually as priority recipients of federal block grant assistance and development. They’re used to planning. Some areas may have gentrified and incomed-out. Other adjacent areas may have suffered setbacks which meet the criteria for inclusion. But together, these areas are the geographic core of blighted conditions from which coordinated plans can converge to add-up to real progress working in and then out from that core.

Beginning with these neighborhoods, the city should radically realign its leveraging of tax increments to attract private investment partnerships for affordable rental and homeownership housing; and, for employment centers committed to training and hiring city workers.

As for how to pay, Baltimore City has the means to undertake this effort, with planning staff support for residents and tax incentives to attract private development partnerships. Witness the local investment of capital and tax increments to build condos along the shoreline of the Inner Harbor and beyond. Those same means are available once our new city leadership breaks with tradition and mobilizes such public development incentives and tax increments to revitalize where so many of our most blighted residents live and need work.

In the 14th District, the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello (CHM) neighborhood is one of the urban renewal areas which would greatly benefit from the focus such a coalition of urban renewal areas would generate. We would love to be at the core of such a major and planful assault on blight citywide, from the urban renewal areas out. It would also increase CHM’s status in adequate funding for a long-lingering development project (Tivoly Triangle) which is clearing 3 blighted city blocks to create a development site for affordable new housing. Akin to the middle-income families in question 2, CHM is caught in the no-mans-land between at-risk and still viable. Looking passable but struggling to hold back the deluge.

2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,00 and up, and those who earn $25,000 and below. The middle class in Baltimore is stagnating, and struggling to afford rental housing. How do you propose to keep median-income renters from leaving the city without pushing them into homeownership they may not want or be able to afford?

Decisively dedicate the City’s investment and tax incentive tools to the development of affordable rental and homeownership housing in mixed low-to-moderate income planned developments within our city neighborhoods. Prioritize the rehab or replacement of those clusters of rental housing where lead poisoning of children is and has traditionally been most prevalent.

Such dedication of public resources means a diversion of public incentives away from expensive developments in prime locations which, however significant, we can no longer afford if we are to heal and grow as a city — and retain our middle-income residents and families.

For their benefit as well, retain and expand sliding scale, year-round School Age Child Care Centers (SACCC) now operating from 6am – 6pm and all summer long at Waverly and Northwood schools. Promote SDAT property tax credits, especially the under-utilized and income-based Homeowners Property Tax Credit.

3. Our Housing Authority has a decades long reputation for corruption and incompetence in its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?

We have begun already, but I intend to continue working with my City Council colleagues to determine the sources of corruption and incompetency from top to bottom of the agency and to root out all personnel who fail to live up to the honesty, professionalism, respectfulness, and competence our residents deserve and require. I have and will always defend a resident’s right to speak up against disrespect, abuse, and injustice.

4. It’s been said that Baltimore’s tax sale process is burdensome to seniors and low-income residents, forcing many out of their homes. How do you plan to make this process easier for those who are struggling to pay for their water bills and property taxes, and how would you better structure the tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?

Elderly and low-income homeowners often have problems understanding what the tax sale notices means and what to do about them. As a result, many just set the notice aside and hope for the best — until it’s almost too late. Not usually on line or owning a car, many rely on phone calls to try to understand, but they often cannot get through or make sense of what they are told. Housing’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Ken Strong has been working diligently to develop help for tax sale victims. Just last week, he and his collegue Ken Gelula helped a constituent connect with Neighborhood Housing Services and its loan program. I plan to keep working with “the Ken’s” as they develop better access, referrals, and strategies to assist. For information: ken.strong@baltimorecity.gov.

5. If you plan to introduce a reduction in property taxes, please indicate that, but also indicate how you plan to make up for the lost revenue.

I have no plan to initiate a further reduction in property taxes beyond honoring the current mayor’s owner-occupant tax reduction commitment. Crucial as property tax relief is to Baltimore’s future, we have recovery work ahead which requires all funds on deck for the foreseeable future. Public safety, public education, living wage jobs, job training and transportation must take precedence until positive effects provide the opportunity for significant progress in achieving tax equity with our surrounding subdivisions.

6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?

I propose that developers of market-rate housing subject to the inclusionary housing law be required to incorporate the cost of integrating the affordable housing units required into their own corporate development costs and design. Many such projects are currently waived from compliance for lack of sufficient city funds to subsidize the inclusion required by law. These units should be part of the developer’s original financial plan.

Off-site alternatives will sometimes make sense when integrating affordable units leads to the prospect of overly expensive and socially isolated units amidst a super-luxury market development. But inclusionary housing is far more than just a roof over a family’s head. It’s about a positive and supportive neighborhood in which to raise families. With those principles in mind, any off-site alternatives to on-site inclusion should themselves be comprised of mixed income units and included in the developer’s financial plan and proposal from the start.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 14?

My approach is to help residents facing tax sales, evictions, landlord problems. Years ago, I sponsored the Tenants Right of First Refusal law to provide long-term tenants the chance to bid first to buy the single-family house they are renting — and to be protected from losing out to lower bids. More recently, I sponsored legislation that prohibits discrimination in renting or buying a dwelling unit based on the source of income of the applicant, this in response to voucher rejection in some quarters. I am increasingly concerned about application fees required when applying to rent a house or apartment. These fees are a hardship for voucher and other low-income applicants, the expense limits “comparison shopping,” and the fees have no apparent rationale. I am researching to see what legislative options may be available to curb such expenses.

No Response From District 13 City Council Candidates

Sadly, no responses were received from any of the District 13 candidates: George Johnson, Warren Branch (incumbent), Antonio Glover, Kenya Lee, Ronald Owens-Bey, and Shannon Sneed.

District 12 Candidate Ian Schlakman on Housing

Ian Schlakman was the only candidate from District 12 to respond to the questionnaire. His answers are below, with no edits. The following candidates did not respond: Kelly Cross, Gary Crum, Ertha Harris, Jason Pyeron, Rashad Staton, Gordon Stock, and Frank Richardson.

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. How do you intend to clean up blight in your district that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Baltimore’s housing and building stock is used by developers and owners – many of them absentee – as a tool for their own personal profit. We need to redefine Baltimore’s housing and building stock as a public resource that all residents can take advantage of for housing, for headquartering new small businesses, and for expanding our public spaces.

Hundreds of millions of dollars – over $500 million to one development in Port Covington most recently – are being gifted to developers to build massive projects that only benefit a small slice of Baltimore. Ending these giveaways will shift more than enough money to the development of our housing and building stock for public needs.

2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,000 and up, and those who earn $25,000 and below. The middle class in Baltimore is stagnating, and struggling to afford rental housing. How do you propose to keep median-income renters from leaving the city without pushing them into homeownership they may not want or be able to afford?

Like Councilmember Kshama Sawant in Seattle, I advocate a program for affordable housing for all. Rent control will stop out-of-control rent increases that are locking the poor and middle class out of stable housing. A Tenant’s Bill of Rights will stop abusive practices by owners and landlords. I advocate creating a housing “public option” by building or renovating thousands of high-quality, city-owned housing units rented at below-market rates. Security deposits and other fees should be capped at no more than one month’s rent.

3. Our Housing Authority has a decades-long reputation for corruption and incompetence at its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?

We must take a step beyond firing Paul Graziano and recycling leadership at the Housing Authority. The Authority’s reputation for corruption and incompetence is an inevitable result of the federal and city initiative to privatize public housing. Graziano’s plans to privatize 40% of the city’s public housing take oversight out of the hands of public agencies – which are run and held accountable by public officials, who can be replaced by voters – and puts it into the hands of private managers, who are only held accountable by stockholders.

In addition to creating a true “public option” for housing, we need to resist and reject efforts to privatize existing public housing both on the local and federal level.

4. It’s been said that Baltimore’s tax sale process is burdensome to seniors and low-income residents, forcing many out of their homes. How do you plan to make this process easier for those who are struggling to pay for their water bills and property taxes, and how would you better structure the city’s tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?

Water should be managed and provided to all Baltimore residents by a municipal water board, not private companies like Veolia. Water needs to be recognized as a human right that all residents can access, regardless of their ability to pay.

Rather than being sold at auction to private companies and developers, any vacant or abandoned Baltimore property with unpaid property taxes will be taken by the City to be redeveloped as part of the housing “public option”. During the redevelopment process, all efforts will be made to settle unpaid taxes and return the homes to owners or occupants. No one will be forced to leave a home until all efforts to settle tax bills have been exhausted.

5. If you plan to introduce a reduction in property taxes, please indicate that, but also indicate how you plan to make up for the lost revenue.

I plan to reduce property taxes, and I will introduce a program of new taxes on millionaires and billion-dollar corporations. They have profited off of the residents of Baltimore for decades and need to finally pay their fair share to build a healthy, livable city for the 99%.

We as a city spend far too many resources to make sure large development projects get the tax breaks and land giveaways they need to be profitable. We need to spend more time, energy, and city resources in getting tax breaks to ordinary homeowners and small businesses.

6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?

I advocate creating a housing “public option” by building or renovating thousands of high-quality, city-owned housing units rented at below-market rates. This will require building low-to-moderate housing in every neighborhood in every part of the city. All vacant or abandoned properties will be returned to the City for redevelopment as part of the “public option”. This program will create more than enough low-to-moderate income housing to fulfill inclusionary housing laws.

However, I am against the idea of developers simply paying into a fund to skirt this law. I think the city needs to gain control of the situation. I plan on doing this by working with the mayor who should be enforcing this law. And if we can’t get the mayor to move on this problem then I will sponsor the creation of a new law that has alternate or automatic enforcement mechanisms built in.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 12?

The City should treat its housing stock as a precious resource. Vacant houses should be demolished only as a last resort when rehabilitation isn’t an option. Demolishing homes to create new open space for sale to developers is another unnecessary handout to corporate developers.

I want to take a minute to address our city’s homeless population in relation to housing. Why don’t we house every homeless family in Baltimore? We obviously have a surplus of housing. It’s the right thing too, of course. The answer is simple: there’s no money to be made in housing them.

That’s why I will be the kind of leader that always does what’s right, not just what’s profitable. We need the political will to take care of all of our residents in Baltimore, not just the ones who are rich.

Thousands of Baltimoreans experience homelessness on a daily basis. Providing housing can give many of these city residents the chance they need to get off the streets. Institute a program to train city residents in renovating city-owned vacant properties and use them to provide housing for people in need of a place to live. Many cities, including large ones like Salt Lake City, have found success with this model.

Once enough housing has been found to house everyone in need, the Vacants to Value program should be overhauled and then expanded to allow everyone who wants to own and invest in a home to do so. Access to quality housing should be considered a human right and shared city resource, and it should be as inexpensive as possible for everyone to take advantage of.

Voters can learn more about my plans at www.ian12.com.

District 11 City Council Candidates on Housing

Two candidates responded to the housing questionnaire — their responses are linked below.

Eric Costello (incumbent)

Greg Sileo

The following candidates did not respond:  Curtis Johnson, Harry Preston, and Dea Thomas.

District 11 City Council Candidate Greg Sileo on Housing

Greg Sileo was the second of two candidates to respond to the housing questionnaire. His answers are below, with no edits.

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. How do you intend to clean up blight in your district that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Throughout my career working in low-income communities I have seen the devastating impact that vacant buildings can have on a community. Knocking on doors in neighborhoods such as Upton and Druid Heights I often have to walk twenty doors before finding another habitable unit. This sort of blight perpetuates poverty and violence and stunts the growth of our City.

While it may be a plan proposed previously, I am a strong proponent of the Land Banking model. Land Banking is being used by over 75 jurisdictions to efficiently handle acquisition, maintenance, and sale of vacant properties. Land Banks can be a valuable tool to both streamline the acquisition of dilapidated properties and to make investment more viable in low-income communities. I would help fund this model by working to enact stricter financial penalties for negligent owners. I would also streamline the process for moving properties into the hands of responsible owners who are focused on rebuilding the community.

2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,000 and up, and those who earn $25,000 and below. The middle class in Baltimore is stagnating, and struggling to afford rental housing. How do you propose to keep median-income renters from leaving the city without pushing them into homeownership they may not want or be able to afford?

As one of the authors of the City’s first plan to end homelessness, I understand the impact of our City’s lack of affordable housing. Workers must make nearly $19 an hour in order to afford a one bedroom apartment in Baltimore City. The gap between our minimum wage and the cost of housing only continues to grow. As homes are renovated and new buildings are constructed, it is essential that many of our city’s residents are not left-behind by our city’s growth.

We must create more affordable housing in order to keep middle and low income residents from leaving the City. As a Council Member, I will advocate for adequate funding and enforcement of the City’s Inclusionary Zoning law to ensure that the original intentions of the program are realized. I will also work with developers who are receiving City tax breaks to identify opportunities for affordable housing within their projects.

3. Our Housing Authority has a decades-long reputation for corruption and incompetence at its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?

As the former Director of the City’s Community Action agency and as the former Director of Homeless Outreach, I worked closely with leadership at both the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development and experienced the dysfunction and lack of vision firsthand. We need immediate change.

As Councilman, I would fight to separate the roles of Housing Commissioner and Executive Director of the Housing Authority. I would also call for the immediate resignation of Commissioner Graziano and would encourage the new Mayor to start a national search for a new, innovative leader that can develop a vision to improve the affordable housing stock in Baltimore.

4. It’s been said that Baltimore’s tax sale process is burdensome to seniors and low-income residents, forcing many out of their homes. How do you plan to make this process easier for those who are struggling to pay for their water bills and property taxes, and how would you better structure the city’s tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?

As someone who has spent his career working in low-income communities, I understand the financial pressures facing many of our residents. Many people are undereducated, underemployed, and forced to make difficult choices between which bills they can pay in a given month. The Baltimore City tax sale process is unforgiving. Residents can lose their homes without any compensation for loss of equity for minor delinquent tax or water bills.

As Councilman, I would fight to increase the delinquent tax bill threshold that sends properties into the tax sale process for homes that are owner-occupied and I would fight to exempt water bill liens from the tax sale process. I would also ensure that residents are better educated on the tax sale process and that proper notice is given and services are offered to residents at risk.

5. If you plan to introduce a reduction in property taxes, please indicate that, but also indicate how you plan to make up for the lost revenue.

It is imperative that Baltimore reduces its property tax rate in order to be more competitive with the surrounding counties. Family can move to the County and pay substantially less taxes, get more space, higher quality schools, and more responsive services. Lowering taxes will stimulate the housing market and result in greater home ownership.

As an IT consultant working with government, I believe that there are substantial opportunities to use technology to streamline City processes, create efficiencies, and reduce costs. I also agree with proposals to create a separate trash collection fee that will put us on a more even playing field with the surrounding counties.

6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?

Baltimore’s inclusionary housing law, which was modeled after similar more effective laws in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country, has produced minuscule results since it was passed in 2007. The trust fund, a key component of the law, has been underfunded and the mechanisms that trigger the law have loopholes that are resulting in far more exemptions than affordable units produced.

As Councilman, I would fight for adequate funding of the Inclusionary Housing Trust Fund to ensure that the intentions of the program are realized. I would also work with advocates to identify and close loopholes that are negatively impacting the production of affordable units. Lastly, I would strengthen the law to ensure that the law creates more units affordable to our lowest income residents.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 11?

We need to do more to keep families in Baltimore and create homeownership opportunities. The 11th District is home to the highest concentration of anchor institutions in the City including the University of Maryland Medical Center, Mercy Hospital, University of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of Art, and the University of Maryland Baltimore. I believe that our partnerships with these institutions can be stronger.

As councilman, I would fight to expand Live Near Your Work incentives by:

− Meeting with the heads of anchor institutions to increase participation in programs which offer financial incentives (to cover down payments and closing costs) to employees who buy a home near where they work.

− Reinvesting recent increases in the City’s Transfer and Recordation taxes to fund higher incentives along with low-interest fixed rate mortgages for employees who choose to live in transitioning communities.

− Advocating for Live Near Your Work incentives targeting teachers who choose to live near their schools.