At a packed City Council hearing Wednesday, residents of Perkins Homes public housing, area clergymen and other residents blasted the $88 million in property tax breaks the planned $1 billion Harbor Point development is set to receive, arguing that a portion of the money should be used to help the poor.
"You should not have luxury communities by developing off of the misery in the city," said Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr. of Union Baptist Church.
The committee hearing was called by City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has accused the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city's quasi-public development arm, of drawing an inappropriate map so that Harbor Point could received Enterprise Zone tax credits -- which are meant for impoverished areas -- that it could not have qualified for on its own.
Stokes has alleged that Harbor Point is specifically taking advantage of the poverty in the Perkins Homes to receive its tax breaks, an allegation the BDC denies. The state approves tax credits by analyzing poverty data as a whole across the city's far-ranging Enterprise Zone map, making it impossible for Harbor Point to specifically benefit from Perkins' poverty, the BDC says.
Moreover, the Harbor Point development will create thousands of jobs that will benefit Baltimoreans, including those in poor areas, the agency argues.
"None of those jobs are possible if the development is not able to be funded," testified Brenda McKenzie, president of the BDC.
Still, residents expressed their disapproval of the project, which is being developed by Michael S. Beatty's Harbor Point Development Group LLC, and accused the BDC of "Gerrymandering" its map of areas eligible for the tax breaks.
More than two dozen people, including several from Perkins Homes, wore shirts that said: "Michael Beatty got an $88M tax break and all we got is this damn T-shirt."
Stokes has introduced a resolution — backed by four other council members — asking Beatty to give 30 percent of its Enterprise Zone property tax savings to the people of Perkins Homes.
"To do any thing less would be to expose their Enterprise Zone application as a sham; and would raise serious questions about whether it is truly in the city's best interests to continue to support the Harbor Point development," Stokes' resolution states. A resolution does not carry the weight of law.
At Wednesday's hearing, Stokes said it was a "damn shame" that Beatty did not attend. He said Beatty told him he would not give any money to the Perkins Homes.
The planned home of Exelon's new regional headquarters, Harbor Point also would be home to a Morgan Stanley facility and feature office buildings, residential towers, stores and a hotel.
Currently, the site is assessed at $10 million, but the BDC projects it would be valued at $1.8 billion for tax purposes when completed. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the Harbor Point project would create about 7,200 construction jobs and that roughly 9,200 jobs would be supported by the businesses that move in.