Annapolis-based Homes for America, which builds affordable rental housing, was averaging five to six projects annually until three years ago. Now, with funding flowing less freely, the pace has dropped to two a year, said Trudy McFall, the nonprofit's chairman.
"We watch the future with great apprehension," she said.
Reductions in federal revitalization money for local governments is a particular problem for developers who need subsidies to build rental housing for lower-income Marylanders. The state requires a contribution of local government funds before developers can apply for other help, such as tax credits, McFall said. The local contribution can come from one of those federal grants — and often does.
"The whole project can go down for want of a community that doesn't have the [federal funds] for it," she said.
Community developers, financiers and local officials grappling with funding challenges met at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's Baltimore office last week to talk about workarounds.
"Crowd funding," for instance — persuading a lot of residents to kick in a little bit of cash each. Or tapping into philanthropic investments, made with the expectation of both financial and social returns. Or figuring out ways to get equity funds to see community development as a good risk.
Graziano, the city's housing commissioner, warned that he doesn't think it's possible to do without public funding in community development. But with all the clouds on the funding horizon, everyone is looking for alternatives.
"We're really trying to figure out how to stack the capital in different ways to get the job done," said Terry Simonette, president and CEO of NCB Capital Impact in Arlington, Va., one of the forces behind the elder-care Green House Residences at Stadium Place in Baltimore.
The United States spent comparatively vast amounts on urban redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, said Duff, Jubilee Baltimore's president. The results were mixed: An emphasis on increasing housing rather than revitalizing neighborhoods did as much harm in Baltimore as good, he said.
Then federal funding started to dwindle. Eventually, local community developers began following a model that Duff thinks is much more effective: Focus on turning around the blocks where problems are commingled with strengths, such as proximity to big institutions and amenities, and push out from there.
But the new reductions and downward pressure don't strike him as another opportunity to do more with less.
"We need more," Duff said. "We don't have enough."