Activists press Baltimore spending board for more affordable-housing funds

A group of activists urged Baltimore’s Board of Estimates on Wednesday to devote more of the city’s annual borrowing to fund affordable housing.

The activists, part of the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, showed up at the meeting wearing T-shirts featuring an image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the front and the slogan “united not blighted” on the back.

They want the city to borrow $20 million a year for erecting affordable housing and $20 million to pay for the deconstruction of vacant buildings. The campaign is called 20/20.

“We need to see a budget that reflects the values that we have, ensuring human rights, ensuring human dignity and accommodating affordable housing,” Jennifer Kunze, one of the activists, told the board members.

The activists lodged a formal protest ahead of the board, which is controlled by Mayor Catherine Pugh, voting to approve $160 million in bonds over two years. The borrowing must be approved by voters at next year’s elections before the bonds can be issued.

Prompted by questions from Pugh, Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman described affordable-housing projects the city is currently working on. Braverman highlighted the redevelopment of the Perkins Homes public housing complex, which he said would create new units of affordable housing in addition to the apartments already there.

Pugh also shifted $4 million in bonds from an economic development fund to one for affordable housing.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Braverman said.

The mayor is seeking to increase the amount of borrowing from $65 million per year to $80 million. Two-thirds of the increase would go to fund that can be used to pay for parks, public buildings and information technology upgrades. The rest is split between schools and economic development programs.

The City Council is also considering ways to boost spending on affordable housing, and one councilman has proposed a tax increase to provide the money.

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