Understanding the real problem at Baltimore's housing agency

Baltimore needs to split Paul Graziano's job in half.

Mayoral candidates Councilman Nick Mosby, Sen. Catherine Pugh and David Warnock have called for the removal of Baltimore housing chief Paul Graziano, whereas Councilman Carl Stokes awaits the investigation of the agency. But all have failed to identify the role of the Board of Commissioners of the Baltimore City Housing Authority. Former mayor Sheila Dixon, of all the candidates, failed to address Mr. Graziano's leadership and guidance of both agencies as she served as City Council president (1999-2007) and mayor (2007-2010).

Each of the candidates fails to recognize the debacle of Mr. Graziano's 16 year reign as housing czar. The Baltimore City Housing Authority (HABC), is a Maryland state chartered Local Public Agency (LPA). The LPA is funded by the federal government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The LPA was founded as a result of the United States Housing Act of 1937 for the purpose of providing financial support to local housing departments as a subsidy toward lowing rent for low income residents. The agency has since expanded its authority in many areas including housing and social programs.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore was formerly named the Baltimore Urban Renewal Agency. This agency, the LPA, is governed by a five-member commission who are appointed by the mayor of Baltimore City. They "are to serve two-year terms or until the expiration of his service as a Commissioner, whichever is the lesser period." The LPA's bylaws also state: "The commission shall employ a secretary (who shall be the executive director and a general counsel, each of whom shall serve until his service are terminated by the commission."

The Department of Housing and Community Development, the Baltimore City agency, is governed by the mayor of Baltimore City, and the commissioner is hired by the mayor and confirmed by the Baltimore City Council. Although, the mayor appoints the commissioner, the mayor does not have the authority to terminate the executive director/secretary of HABC. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City Commissioners have been shielded from scrutiny due to the misunderstanding of City Council, neighborhood leaders, activists and city residents. As one may review the current commissioners, one will find that the terms of these commissioners are over extended. Two years have come and gone.

Considering the clamor and dissatisfaction with Baltimore housing, mayoral candidates should prepare to unwind Baltimore's combined housing agency. The concept to combine the two organizations for the purpose of creating continuity in community development activities with a dual role of the director and commissioner, should be examined. It's too much power for one individual who has the ability to guide the leadership of a voluntary board and the power to direct community development, particularly given that city leaders and the community do not understand the workings of the agency and department.

Ronald Miles

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