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.