A proposal to amend the Baltimore city charter to set up a trust fund for low and extremely low income households will appear on the general election ballot in November, after an affordable housing advocacy group submitted more than 18,100 signatures in support of it.
The Baltimore City Board of Elections confirmed Monday the proposal received enough signatures to appear on city voters' ballots. At least 10,000 signatures were needed.
The Affordable Housing Trust Fund would support the preservation and production of inexpensive housing by providing loans or grants for the planning, production, maintenance and expansion of such housing for low-income renters and homeowners, according to Housing for All Baltimore, the group campaigning for the amendment.
Money from the trust would help create community land trusts that would develop, own or operate permanently affordable rental housing, the group's website says. It would also be used for services guiding low-income residents "to build a path to homeownership."
Affordable housing has become a central issue as a City Council committee considers a tax deal requested by developers of the proposed Port Covington project. Sagamore Development Co. says its goal is to make 10 percent of the 7,500 proposed, mostly rental residences "affordable." Housing advocates say that percentage should be higher.
A city ordinance calls for city-subsidized developments to make 20 percent of their housing units affordable. That requirement has been waived for Port Covington because the law would also require the city to pay Sagamore $180 million for the affordable housing units — money the city does not have.
The proposed charter amendment does not suggest a source of funding. It would be open to public and private financing, and it would be structured to allow the City Council and the mayor to designate funds for it, according to Odette Ramos, executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland.
"We're thrilled; we're excited," Ramos said. "This is a real victory for the work we've done over the summer to collect these signatures."
The proposed amendment will appear on ballots as Question J. Organizers are already brainstorming rhymes for the campaign, such as: "Question J on Election Day," Ramos said.
Ramos said she thinks the amendment has a good chance of passing, as the trust fund would serve the city's neediest residents, "the poorest of the poor."
"This trust fund would focus on those folks," she said. "I don't see how anybody could oppose that."