City must fight black flight

Despite Baltimore's population decline, The Sun's editorial board harbors optimism for the city to grow with policies that attract and retain millennials and immigrants ("Baltimore's declining population," March 23). But the primary reason Baltimore is shrinking, as Natalie Sherman reports, is black flight ("Baltimore population falls, nearing 100-year low, U.S. Census says," March 23). This is not a new trend. Between 1990 and 2015, Baltimore shed over 40,000 net African-Americans.

Filling up downtown apartments with millennials echoes what elected officials are already focused on, and research by Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California, shows the inflow of young professionals into cities has peaked. While immigration has fueled growth in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, this demographic isn't growing fast enough to make up for Baltimore's continued and large black exodus. Between 2010 and 2015, Baltimore's white, Hispanic and Asian populations all grew.   

Baltimore's black families are leaving fast — some to the South as part of a nationwide reverse migration and many others to the suburbs. Some will continue to leave. Cooped up all too long in segregated and high-crime neighborhoods that deny jobs and education, that's a good thing. The city should fight tooth and nail for voucher programs that help disadvantaged black families move to places of opportunity and against the surrounding counties using exclusionary housing tactics to keep black families bottled up in broken neighborhoods — even if that means people go. 

However, the new administration in City Hall must also be explicit about a desire to retain and attract black working families in the same way the last administration was with the goal to grow. This includes focusing on affordable housing, improving schools and transit, reducing crime and providing city services on par with the tax rates. These are challenges that push many from the city but disproportionately affect black residents. It also means prioritizing issues that are unique to the black experience like police brutality and discriminatory real estate practices and developing a long-term strategy to revive the city's historic black cultural neighborhoods and venues like Pennsylvania Avenue and the Royal Theatre.

Baltimore's population loss may seem unexpected, but don't expect it to reverse without leadership about who the city needs to keep and invite in order to grow. To reverse decline, issues facing black families, not just millennials and immigrants, must be front and center.     

Michael Snidal, Baltimore

The writer is president of Citizens Planning and Housing Association in Baltimore.

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