Mayoral Candidate Alan Walden on Housing

Mr. Walden’s answers to the housing questionnaire appear below, with no edits.

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Not all of the tens of thousands of vacant homes are (1) structurally sound and/or (2) habitable. Those which are beyond reclamation should be demolished without delay. As for those that can be saved, there are a series of options. (1) Encourage private contractors to bid on the property, make the necessary structural and cosmetic repairs, and offer them to the public at fair market value. (2) Offer them to prospective residents willing to do the work themselves, then become the resident owners of the property. Mark well the phrase “resident owners.” What should not happen is for unscrupulous absentee owners to take possession of the property, perform only minimal repairs, then either flip the buildings for easy profit or become slumlords as so many have in the past. Either or both of the options noted above, if appropriately initiated and supervised would pay for themselves.

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?

Baltimore’s apparent lack of adequate rental property is based, to a considerable degree, on the fiction that everyone should be a homeowner, not a renter. Compared to other major cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC), rents are relatively modest here. Granted, not all rental property is in the “better” neighborhoods in the city, but even the less inviting venues can become better when upwardly mobile renters move in. What is required is an end to the myth of universal home ownership which often leads to an economic burden many people simply cannot bear. There should be no stigma attached to renting rather than owning. Some people spend their enter lives as renters and are none the worse for it.

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?

Where incompetence and/or corruption is found, it must be dealt with immediately; harshly if necessary. All agencies work from the top down. Those in positions of leadership in any municipal agency or department, if found wanting, must be replaced. Those found to have willingly violated the regulations of any agency or department should be exposed, fired outright and, if found to have broken the law, prosecuted for their offenses.

4. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in Baltimore?

The major issue is the people of Baltimore, whatever their social or economic status, all of whom deserve adequate housing in neighborhoods that are inviting and safe. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that all housing in Baltimore its those parameters; or that it ever will. But steps can be taken to improve what now exists provided the city administration creates the proper environment to encourage that improvement.

Because Sadly, Sometimes Even Women Get This Wrong.

The women’s organization UltraViolet has been mentioned on social media lately, for their anti-Paul Graziano ads and petition to have the Baltimore HABC Commissioner fired. While I commend them for their effort, I was dismayed last night to read this:

Women were forced to trade sex for critical home repairs

Since this story broke, many women, including myself, have repeatedly tried to stop people (including journalists) from using the term “trade sex for repairs” when talking about this issue. Because the women didn’t trade. They were raped. I never thought that in 2016 I would have to explain the core definition of “rape” to people…but alas, here we go.

Rape is the abuse of power. Physical power, economic power, etc. It has very little to do with sex — I doubt you’d find many crime experts who would disagree with this definition. The women who live in public housing are women of color — many with children, poor, and living under horrific conditions. No heat, no hot water, leaky pipes, faulty wiring — conditions that I freely admit I could not live under for very long. The men who raped these women were in a position of power — they held all the cards. They could then abuse this power, by telling these women, “No, I’m not fixing your leaky pipe, unless you…” They could use this power to control what happens to these women (and to their children), and they either had to comply, or risk enduring more horrific conditions. This is not a “trade”. This is rape.

The other thing that bothers me about the “trade” scenario, is that it places some of the responsibility on these women. Women who, by virtue of being poor and African-American, are already stereotyped as being over-sexualized, and therefore somehow complicit in what happened to them. As if this was an everyday business transaction gone wrong. Sanitizing rape, no matter how innocuous the statement may seem, only perpetuates the stereotypes that women somehow brought their assault on themselves by their behavior — it places the burden on the victim, and furthers the shame and reluctance to go to the authorities to make a complaint. It hurts all of us.

We need to stand with these women, and ensure something like this never happens again in our city — but in order to do that, we have to clearly and plainly state what happened, without sanitizing. Again, I’m thrilled people are joining the Graziano-Must-Go bandwagon — it’s been a long time coming. However, we have to do it in such a way that doesn’t re-victimize the residents in our public housing complexes, and we have to do it without regard to readership numbers or the potential for funding.

Stop calling it a “trade”. It was rape.

Support Good Development Near Morgan State: Sign the Petition

Holmes Hall, Morgan State University
Holmes Hall, Morgan State University

If you’ve ever been to Morgan State University’s campus in Baltimore, one of the first things you notice is the lack of retail nearby. Normally a university campus would be surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, etc. similar to the Johns Hopkins campus in Charles Village.

There is a shopping center just off Morgan’s campus — at present, it’s quite a dump. It certainly isn’t the kind of place college students would flock to. All that could change, however, if the shopping center’s owner and a developer were able to redevelop the shopping center parcel into mixed-use apartments and retail, for Morgan students — with no public financing. The developer is planning to use his own money, and not asking for public help for this venture, as he’s confident he’ll be able to attract solid retail tenants for this venture.

Northwood Plaza Shopping Center -- many of the businesses are closed, others are in disrepair.
Northwood Plaza Shopping Center — many of the businesses are closed, others are in disrepair.

According to one neighbor, who has attended community meetings with the developer present, the surrounding neighborhood associations are in favor of the development — except the Hillen Road Improvement Association, which also has the backing of State Senator Joan Carter Conway. Unfortunately, instead of representing her district, Senator Conway has chosen to side with her own interests and that of her immediate neighbors, who apparently don’t want Morgan students living nearby.

What can you do?

Sign the petition for better development near Morgan State’s campus.

Email or call Senator Joan Conway and remind her that she was elected to represent all of the 43rd District — not just her own interests and those of her immediate neighbors.

Morgan State students and faculty deserve better — let’s make sure we support them in their desire for better housing and retail options.

 

2016 Housing Legislation

Photo of Maryland State House, Annapolis
State House, Annapolis, MD

Today was the start of the 2016 legislative session, and so far there have been a few housing bills introduced:

SB0024: Discrimination in Housing – Military Status

Summary: Establishing that it is the policy of the State to provide for fair housing to all, regardless of military status; prohibiting specified discriminatory acts relating to the sale or rental of a dwelling because of a person’s military status; prohibiting a person from discriminating in residential real estate-related transactions because of a person’s military status; defining “military status” as an active duty member of the armed forces or a veteran with a specified discharge from the armed forces of the United States; etc.

Sponsor: Senator Bryan Simonaire, District 31

Discrimination against the military is sometimes swept under the carpet — but it does indeed happen, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether the servicemember is active-duty or a veteran. Landlords will sometimes refuse to rent to active-duty military, because leases are easier for military personnel to break, because of their obligations. Also, some landlords will refuse to rent to veterans because of a perceived “threat” or a personal bias.

Consider also the fact that 30% of our active duty personnel, 25% of reservists, and roughly 21% of our veterans nationwide identify as a minority group (with the overwhelming number as Black or African-American), military status shouldn’t be another way to discriminate against Maryland’s military personnel. Ensuring that our current and retired servicemembers are able to secure housing, free from discrimination, should be a goal of every legislator statewide.


 

HB0021: Sustainable Communities Tax Credit – Residential Units for Lower-Income Individuals

Summary:  Providing that a rehabilitation with at least 30 residential rental units is ineligible for the Maryland Sustainable Communities Tax Credit unless the individual or business entity seeking the certification agrees to set aside at least 10% of the residential rental units as housing for households whose median income does not exceed 60% of the area median income; and applying the Act to initial credit certificates issued on or after July 1, 2016.

Sponsor:  Delegate Keith Haynes, District 44

I had some questions about this bill, particularly the “area median income” mentioned in the summary. Is he referring to the Metropolitan Statistical Area median income, or the Baltimore City median income? This matters, because the MSA median is significantly higher than the city’s median income ($70,000 vs $41,000). If only 10% of the residential units in a building are set aside for people who earn 60% of the median income, it could make a difference in who’s considered for apartments, and who’s denied. Unfortunately, Delegate Haynes did not respond to any of the questions asked.


HB0032: Restoring and Sustaining Baltimore City Communities Act of 2016

Summary: Requiring the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City to grant, by law, a specified property tax credit against the property tax imposed on specified property located in specified communities in Baltimore City; establishing the amount and duration of the property tax credit; providing for the eligibility requirements of the property tax credit; providing the Act shall be applicable to all taxable years beginning on or after June 30, 2016; etc.

Sponsor: Delegate Keith Haynes, District 44

I like this bill, on its surface. Granting tax credits to people who purchase vacants and rehab them is a good thing. However, I’d like to see it expanded outside Delegate Haynes’ district, and include any vacant in the city — especially those in neighborhoods on the east side of the city that are just as blighted as Sandtown, Upton, etc.  (See below.)


HB0036: Rebuilding Baltimore City Communities Act of 2016

Summary: Requiring the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City to grant, by law, a specified property tax credit against the property tax imposed on specified property located in specified communities in Baltimore City; establishing the amount and duration of the property tax credit; providing for the eligibility requirements of the property tax credit; providing the Act shall apply to all taxable years beginning after June 30, 2016; etc.

Sponsor: Delegate Keith Haynes, District 44

This is the same bill, almost word for word, as HB0032 above, except it does what I’d like a bill like this to do — it opens up the same tax credit mentioned above, to neighborhoods that are 35% (or more) vacant. I’d support this one before HB0032, simply because it would benefit more people across the city.


 

Governor Hogan Announces $700 Million Initiative in Baltimore City

As we’ve read in the news, Maryland has begun a $700 million plan to revitalize blighted neighborhoods in Baltimore City, starting with $9.875 million in funding (FY 2016) for demolishing unsafe vacant homes. After speaking with Audra Harrison, Director of the Office Public Information for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, I am confident our neighborhoods will be fairly assessed and revitalized via this program. Here’s why:

The Maryland Stadium Authority is the designated project manager for the initiative — because of their expertise in large-scale redevelopment projects, including Baltimore City’s 21st Century School Buildings plan. Funding will also be managed by the state, and allocated by the state, not Baltimore City.

With the governor’s plan comes millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing, small business development, and relocation. For FY 2016, funding will be as follows:

  • $149 million through DHCD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, to acquire and renovate public housing facilities.
  • $1.3 million available through the Community Legacy program
  • $2.87 million through the Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative.

According to Ms. Harrison, the plan will also include funding for low-income/affordable housing (both multi-family and single-family units) and mixed-use development, along with market rate housing, to bring true economic stabilization to neighborhoods that have been in decline for 40+ years.

Keep in mind, also, that RAD projects are to remain low-income housing for up to 40 years — the idea is to stabilize neighborhoods, not make them unaffordable for residents who currently live there. As you will see below, the largest funding allocations will be for affordable housing, in each of the fiscal years.

Funding for FY 2017-2019:

FY 2017 Proposed Financing – $278 million:

  • $19.125 million in strategic demolition funds in the Governor’s budget;
  • $155 million in RAD program funds;
  • $70 million through multifamily affordable housing commitment through multifamily revenue bond issuance for affordable housing;
  • $15 million through low income housing tax credit program raised through the department’s financing activities/bonds;
  • $15 million through private activity bonds for small business;
  • $1.3 million through community legacy program;
  • $2.87 million through Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative.

FY 2018 Proposed Financing – $143 million:

  • $20 million in strategic demolition funds in the Governor’s budget;
  • $70 million through multifamily housing revenue bonds for affordable housing;
  • $17.99 million through RAD (subject to increase);
  • $15 million through low income housing tax credit program raised through the department’s financing activities/bonds;
  • $15 million through private activity bonds for small business;
  • $1.3 million through community legacy program;
  • $2.87 million through Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative.

FY 2019 Proposed Financing – $129 million:

  • $25 million in strategic demolition funds in the Governor’s budget;
  • $70 million through multifamily housing revenue bonds for affordable housing;
  • $15 million through low income housing tax credit program raised through the department’s financing activities/bonds;
  • $15 million through private activity bonds for small business;
  • $1.3 million through community legacy program;
  • $2.87 million through Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative.

I hope this information addresses many concerns I’ve been hearing, with regard to the governor’s plan and its funding. The one thing that keeps going through my mind is the idea that we need to make some drastic changes in the way Baltimore does business and treats its citizens — my feeling is this will be a solid, sustainable first step in ensuring the economic well-being of communities that have been ignored and abandoned for decades. There is a higher level of fiscal accountability tied to this program, including vetting any organization that wants to take advantage of the funding and participate in redevelopment efforts, because those activities are (for the most part) being done by the state and not Baltimore City.

I look forward to seeing the positive changes this plan has the potential to bring to our neighborhoods!

Help Save African-American History in 2016!

Let's help save 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from the same fate as 1234!
Let’s help save 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from the same fate as 1234!

Start out your new year by attending this important CHAP hearing, so that 1232 Druid Hill Avenue can be declared a landmark. If you recall, Bethel AME Church, the owner of “Freedom House” (1234 Druid Hill Avenue) showed a complete lack of regard for its historic status and demolished the structure — let’s not let the same happen to 1232!

When: January 12, 2016, 1:05 PM

Where: Phoebe Stanton Conference Room of the Department of Planning, 8th Floor, 417 E. Fayette Street

West Baltimore is full of historic structures and personal stories that should be preserved — let’s not allow one more story to be silenced.

Mayoral Candidate Patrick Gutierrez on Housing

The second of the second-round candidates to respond in the correct format is Patrick Gutierrez. His answers are below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these important questions. Please note that these are my ideas, but I do not claim to have all the answers. I am willing to listen, I am willing to learn, and I am willing to work with the community to address these problems.

One of my plans is to provide incentives for developers to purchase these properties specifically to work with the homeless population and those in poverty to rehab them. That means having the developer set aside some money for job training and agreeing to hire a certain number of residents to help with the rehab process. I would also require the developers to set aside a certain percentage of the rehabbed homes for the homeless population. The developers would make money, the homeless would get housed, and residents would get jobs. That’s how I believe a TIF should work.

I would also look for opportunities to demolish entire blocks and make those vacant lots available for lease to community groups, adjacent property owners, businesses, and anyone interested in beautifying or greening their community. Some of the potential projects could be large community gardens where residents could sell their harvest at Farmers Markets, landscaped pocket parks, green space, and other projects that improve the neighborhood. I’m willing to listen to anyone who has an idea because it would almost certainly be an improvement to the neighborhood than having it remain vacant.

I would also have the city do targeted investment where we invest in neighborhoods that meet a defined criteria, such as having a high concentration of vacant, tax-delinquent residential lots, structural violations, and streets needing repair but also have at least 50 percent of residences that are currently owner occupied. I would offer incentives to residents to move from one dilapidated neighborhood to another to increase the owner-occupancy rate to 50 percent in that neighborhood and trigger the investment. That investment would include things like increased police patrols and code enforcement, a full-time community prosecutor to help build engagement in the community and inspire confidence in the justice system, and various street, sidewalk, and park improvements like landscaping and pedestrian lighting. The targeted neighborhood would then become more populated, safer, and more attractive which would then open the door to things like new housing and mixed used development, a new or improved neighborhood school, a better bus route, and a supermarket.

I would also work to keep people in their homes so they don’t become vacant. We could do something similar to what they did in Louisville, Kentucky. The government provided $350,000 to help 70 families with up to $5,000 each to cover shelter and utility bills. If the recipient homeowner stays in the home for another 10 years, the loan is forgiven. If the house is sold during the 10 years, the homeowner has to pay back a pro-rated portion of the loan.

The overriding theme in all of these ideas is they would be part of a comprehensive master plan to reduce vacant properties. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and that goes for money as well as manpower. The money will come from existing government resources as well as private investment and the non-profit sector. We have plenty of these resources to make significant progress, we just need to do a better job allocating it. And we need to empower communities to take ownership of their neighborhoods. I think we would be much more successful in addressing problems like these if we made our residents stakeholders in the process instead of bystanders.

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?

Median-income renters, especially families, take a lot of issues into consideration when deciding where to live so keeping them in the city will require many interdependent issues to be addressed aside from economics. Those issues include public safety, schools, and access to quality neighborhood public spaces and community programs.

We need to revitalize our parks and playgrounds and increase recreational activities. When I first moved to nearby Brewers Hill in 2001, Patterson Park was not a desirable location, and that’s putting it mildly. But once residents began to take back the neighborhood and the city followed up with its revitalization efforts, things began to change. Now it’s the jewel of the surrounding neighborhoods and there are multiple high-performing schools, as well as a high concentration of diverse families and median-income renters within walking distance of it.

A similar revitalization could do wonders for Carroll Park and its surrounding neighborhoods, which have been losing median-income families for years despite its relative affordability, close proximity to downtown and easy access to I-95 and the MARC. Same thing with other parks/neighborhoods. We are in an era where more median-income families truly want to live in the city but the city is not doing enough to capitalize on that by putting more things in place to attract and retain them. That’s something I intend to change and it starts with revitalizing our parks and playgrounds and making the areas safer and more family-friendly.

Improving our education system will go a long way towards encouraging those median-income families to stay and give us a chance to convert them into long-term residents. Through my work with the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, my job was to encourage families to stay, and the ones who left almost always cited education as a major reason for leaving. This is true not just here in Baltimore but in other urban cities as well. When the education system is unappealing, families leave the city. Investing wisely in the education system, managing our resources better, and bringing a more diverse set of programs that can add value for our children is an important step to making the city more attractive to those families. We can do this by adding universal Pre-K, expanding career-training education, and building more quality neighborhood schools.

Crime is the other major reason people leave Baltimore. As I mentioned above, these issues are interconnected. There is a direct correlation between safe and well-kept public spaces and the overall crime rate of that area. There is also a direct correlation between unsafe and unkempt public spaces and suburban flight. Furthermore the results of the 2013 Baltimore Citizens Survey Report show that people continue to see violent crime as a very serious problem facing the city and the situation has only gotten worse since then. That, along with drug concerns revealed in the very same survey would certainly give many residents pause when considering Baltimore for themselves and their families.

We can reverse this disturbing trend by once again focusing on our neighborhoods and the things that have been proven to strengthen them. It all goes back to my plan to empower communities to take ownership of their neighborhoods. I will openly seek more community involvement via civil review boards, resident advisory boards and community neighborhood watches. In addition, I will hold more city-supported neighborhood events which I will personally attend with my family to encourage community members to frequent and enjoy their current public spaces.

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?

[Note: I added the bullets to each of Mr. Gutierrez’s points to make the list more readable, as I think his version of Word and mine were not compatible and therefore his list was a bit of a jumble when I opened the document.]

  • By making the agency more transparent and its people more accountable, starting at the very top. It’s not just about firing somebody, it’s about using my leadership and management skills to put specific processes and procedures in place to ensure scandals like the ones the department is facing never happen again. Here are just some examples of what that would look like:
  • By ensuring managers are providing proper supervision to employees on an ongoing basis. Regular feedback, quarterly progress reports, annual performance reviews, etc.
  • By creating a Resident Advisory Board and empowering it to take a more active role in the process. They have the most interest in seeing the process succeed so let’s use that to everyone’s advantage.
  • By streamlining communication between residents and the agency so everyone is kept informed.
  • By looking at the entire end-to-end process of how things are done and determining what parts make sense to keep and what parts need to be changed to reflect today’s challenges.
  • By having complete and accurate financial and performance audits done. By putting controls in place to ensure all department money is accounted for and spent properly.
  • By ensuring that managers and employees in that department get out of their offices and join me in engaging with their constituents on a regular basis. It’s harder to ignore someone if you have to look them in the eye frequently.
    By identifying and developing the next generation of leaders so we always have a pool of qualified people to do the job if we need to make a leadership change for any reason.
  • By creating a public database to track progress of repairs and resident satisfaction scores. By holding employees accountable to those scores.
  • By asking the city’s amazing corporate partners and developers to pitch in and do their part to help get these repair problems addressed. And they will do it, too, because they are great partners and the city has been very good to them.

4. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in Baltimore?

I believe that housing should be considered a fundamental right and my efforts in this area as Mayor will be reflective of that overriding principle. I believe in the “Housing First” approach. I believe we have enough resources today (public, private, non-profit and government) to make serious and meaningful progress in this area if more of us worked together under one coherent strategic plan and that will be my focus. I believe providing housing is not only the right thing to do morally, but in the long run it will end up saving us millions of dollars.

Mayoral Candidate Joshua Harris on Housing

The first of the second-round candidates to respond in the correct format is Joshua Harris. His answers are below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

I, not unlike many others in this city, believe our vacant properties represent a unique opportunity to address a number of issues plaguing our communities, i.e. crime, lack of jobs, non-performing assets adversely impacting neighborhoods. However, I depart from others when you compare my strategy to address the high number of vacant properties with existing solutions.

First, I will provide an opportunity for returning citizens to learn “whole-house” renovations through our One-Stop Job Center (programs that are career ladders such as pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, journeymen licensure will be implemented). These skills-acquisition programs will be paid for by Dept. of Labor funds. I am targeting returning citizens for multiple reasons: 1) the more serious and violent crimes are most likely committed by someone who has been involved in the system before thus, we can reduce crime substantially by engaging the previously incarcerated; 2) another reason is to provide immediate support to returning citizens in order to mainstream them earlier and prevent involvement in criminal behavior and the consumption of public resources; and 3) many returning citizens have valuable skills that can benefit our communities.

Next, I will return each vacant property to the market as a performing asset that uses renewable energy and is energy efficient. The renewable energy source will be solar energy that is using solar panels manufactured here in Baltimore. The renewable energy system will be installed by an exoffender trained in one of our programs through the One-Stop Job Center.  The solar panels that will be manufactured in Baltimore will come from our Green Tech Incubator.  The Incubator will be financed with federal funds primarily from Economic Development Administration and the Dept. of Energy. The Green Tech Incubator is part of a larger program to develop an entrepreneurship society that puts a sharper focus on community development.  I would be reticent about using TIF for a Citywide project such as the one above but instead I would probably use Community Development Block Grant funds, more particularly a Section 108 loan. The repayment of this loan can be accomplished by securitizing the outstanding balances on the new renovated homes that have been performing for 12 months.

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?

We have to ensure creation of more living wage jobs that can help increase middle class. One way I plan on doing so is through the TIF system. In addition, we have to look at creative ways to stabilize rent and mortgage markets like land trust models and rent control. We must look at creative ways to lower property tax within the city. One example could be implementing commuter tax.

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?

The very first thing I will do, if the City Charter permits, is separate Public Housing from the Dept. of Housing and Community Development. If you look at most cities around the country, these are two separate entities. Secondly, I would, if the City Charter permits, place the Baltimore Development Corporation under the auspices of the Dept. of Housing and Community Development. We have to ensure that the current leadership is properly trained and bring in new leadership committed to transparency and accountability. Under my administration there will be proper systems management through policy and protocol establishment and implementation. I will first assess the status of current policies, then address any errors, and lastly implement appropriate measures for transparency and accountability. More importantly what makes me different from other candidates is my dedication to continuous assessment. If there is a program implemented that needs to be adjusted, we will assess and adjust as necessary.

4. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in Baltimore?

Housing is directly related with other key issues like crime, employment, and energy. We know that 75 percent of crimes are committed by repeat offenders. We have also learned that continuously jailing those individuals creates a cycle that prevents employment. Understanding that an individuals’ employment drastically reduces their propensity to return to crime, we can target offenders and ensure that they are being properly trained for a living wage job. We can have an impact on crime reduction in the city with job creation. Also we have targeted energy levels and many of our homes within the city are not energy efficient. We can use training in green construction and weatherization to not only create jobs in on of the fastest growing industries in the state, but also support the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standards efforts to reduce our city’s carbon footprint.

Mayoral Candidate David Warnock on Housing

The fourth candidate to respond in the correct format is David Warnock. His answers are below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

We are at a critical crossroads in Baltimore. To economically and spiritually renew our city, we have to improve the quality of life of everyone – everyone – who calls Baltimore home. That starts with respect for the citizens of Baltimore, and respect starts with stewardship of their hard-earned money.

What does that mean when it comes to vacants? That means regular financial and performance audits of the city’s municipal departments, including auditing current vacants-related programs, and most importantly, auditing customer service requests so that Housing is accountable to everyone impacted by the thousands of vacant properties that the city owns.

But a challenge as big and as critical to the fabric of our neighborhoods as vacant houses requires creative leadership, not more of the same. Hiring in our Housing department must be based on commitment, competency and creativity – not cronyism – and with that, we will create an administration that the people of Baltimore can be proud of, and that will apply creative solutions to this challenge and others that impact the people of Baltimore every day.

Baltimore is a cool, edgy, vibrant city. We are a city of neighborhoods and character. Solving this problem is integral to keeping those neighborhoods, and that character, intact.

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?

We can’t have neighborhoods, and the people who live in them, isolated from the rest of the city, and we can’t have the city isolated from the rest of the region. Baltimore is the region’s anchor and the region’s leader, and one of the opportunities we’ve missed as that leader is to lead the region in preserving affordable rental housing.
In too many cities, low-income and middle-income renters have been pushed out by economic growth, and to prevent that in Baltimore, we have to have an affordable housing plan that preserves affordable rental housing ten, twenty and fifty years into the future. Growing economic opportunity is the most important thing that I’ll be working on as mayor, and making sure that economic growth doesn’t leave anyone behind is a critical part of that.

Baltimoreans have pride in their neighborhoods, and we have to continue to cultivate that pride. That means having a plan for our communities to be sustainable and affordable well into the future.

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?

The common denominator of every successful company I’ve been a part of is good leadership and good employees. Successful government is no different.

Leadership has to lead by example and show respect for the people who we have pledged to serve. There’s no question that Housing needs to be brought up that standard. I’ve owned my own small business for twenty years, and I always evaluate people based on their performance. As mayor, everyone who works for me will be evaluated on his or her performance as well.

If an employee on any tier of my administration, especially at the top tier, cannot meet their performance standards, then it’s time for them to be replaced. There is no room for corruption, incompetence or cronyism as we work to serve the citizens of Baltimore.

4. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in Baltimore?

I believe in having respect for the people of Baltimore. Respect is transparent government, in which both programs and finances at Housing and elsewhere are regularly audited. Respect is an accountable government, in which senior agency leaders are held responsible for improving the lives of Baltimore citizens. Respect is a responsive government that takes concerns and complaints seriously. Respect is just following up on those concerns, and addressing issues in a timely manner.

We’re at a crucial time in our city. It’s a time when Baltimore requires leadership that is fearless, honest and beholden to no one but the citizens of our city. I will build an administration that fundamentally respects the people of Baltimore.

Mayoral Candidate LaVern Murray on Housing

The third candidate to respond in the correct format to our four questions was LaVern Murray. Her answers are below, as transcribed by her Committee Chairmen [sic] Brennan A. Murray, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Baltimore needs a major overhaul within the arena of development; we almost need to treat this as if we are developing a new city. And the first rule of developing a new city it to create an anchor. A commercial anchor whether it be retail, entertainment, or vocational. Once there is a draw for people to patronize any given area, we would be able to create desirable living opportunities around that anchor. We want to bring the methodology that has help certain areas of Baltimore thrive, across the entire city.

With over 32 years of construction experience in the Baltimore Metro Area I am very familiar with the local development market here in the city. I would like to propose tax based incentives to local private organizations in order to demolish the unsalvageable homes to pave the way for redevelopment. Our city’s housing situation will not be solved by throwing more homes at it, the solution has both residential and commercial component. Any city blocks that are completely uninhabited will be demolished and re-zoned as commercial property to draw new private developers into the city. Thereby raising property values and giving blighted communities new opportunities.

Concerning the blocks where citizens still reside we will prioritize these areas for residential redevelopment. We propose providing tax incentives to those who desire to invest into our city and move back into or redevelop unpopulated areas.

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?

Many cities throughout the country have enacted rental stabilization laws to ensure all renters have fair and equal opportunities. We will work to bring this type of situation to Baltimore. With the States help specifically the initiative of House Bill 315 we will investigate and enact a system of Rent Stabilization in Baltimore City.

We understand that each district of Baltimore has different levels of income and should be evaluated individually to ensure just rental laws and rental caps. Each of Baltimore’s 14 District Councilmen and their staff should work side by side with Baltimore Housing Authority to gather quantitative information regarding the median income levels or their districts; in order to lay out fair rent stabilization laws based on location specific information.

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?

Baltimore City’s Housing Authority (HABC) is the fifth largest public housing authority in the country, with over 1000 employees and The Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has over 500 employees. When these organizations were consolidated into one department it was done with good intentions. However I believe this was done in haste and without precise oversight, thereby producing major areas of redundancy and ineffectiveness.

Our plan of action will include a thorough audit of our Housing Authority and all its workers in order to root our any unnecessary or redundant operations. Also, for too long those who have no true desire to effect positive change in Baltimore’s housing market have been in power; abusing and misusing their authority to keep the status quo. So this audit will include the removal of persons not performing at the optimal levels. There are no checks and balances for this and many of the cities departments. This administration would prioritize stronger direct oversight of our local departments. No longer is the city going to foot the bill for employees to not perform to the best of their abilities.

4. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in Baltimore?

[No response]