Baltimore City has a housing problem (no, not the vacants this time). One that isn’t unique to Baltimore, but one that nobody seems to be willing to address, at least not publicly.
When we talk about affordable housing, it’s generally relative to home purchases or housing for the poor. Those two things are important, yes. But we’re not focusing on the newer housing problem — the lack of affordable housing for the middle class workforce — those who aren’t in the “poor” category, and those whose incomes simply don’t stretch far enough to meet the misguided landlord-centric HUD “market-rate” rent that’s based on an unrealistic geographic area that includes the wealthy suburbs. (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development FMR Documentation).
So…what does “affordable” mean, anyway?
In order to calculate affordability, the generally-accepted standard is to not be paying more than 25% to 30% of one’s net monthly income on rent on mortgage. (Source: Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Project “The Affordability Index”). For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about rent — not mortgage. And we’re focusing on renters, for now, not homeowners or potential homeowners.
The overwhelming majority of Baltimore City households — 60%, by my calculation — do not earn the income required to afford to rent a two-bedroom house or apartment that is priced at $1200 a month or above. (Source: BNIA Vital Signs 11). This means while teachers can afford to live in the city, the aides/paraprofessionals cannot. Nor can the janitors or cafeteria workers, and probably not the secretaries in the office — not unless they have quite a few years spent working for the system. (Source: Baltimore City Schools 2013-2014 pay scale).
This also includes other city employees — health aides, arts instructors, DPW workers, legal assistants, most City Council staffers, firefighters, 311 operators — you get the picture. These are people who work hard, despite the bureaucratic nightmare they have to work with — yet, they can’t afford to live in the very city they work hard to protect, clean, and otherwise make a better place. (Source: Baltimore City Employee Salaries FY2012, via Baltimore OpenData).
And this doesn’t include all of the service workers we take for granted — the folks who make our coffee, serve us lunch, ring up our groceries at the supermarket, type our correspondence, or cook our dinner.
We need development in Baltimore, and not the Harbor Point pie-in-the-sky kind of development. We need someone with vision — someone who sees the potential in what Councilman Cole once called “The Outer Harbor”. It’s time to revive Councilman Cole’s Outer Harbor Initiative and start focusing on our long-neglected neighborhoods that are still standing tall and hanging in, despite the odds. Neighborhoods like Union Square and Lafayette Square. Neighborhoods like Oldtown and Bridgeview/Greenlawn. We need a developer to understand the potential of these neighborhoods, and the people within them — and to see the potential for growth and profit, once these neighborhoods are redeveloped for the people who live there, and for the people who want to move in. Affordable middle-class workforce housing is the key to fixing so many of our neighborhoods — we just need the right people to come together and make this happen.
I invite any and all ideas, suggestions, comments — and yes, development strategies. All it takes is one.