Speakers seek broader affordable-housing bill


Baltimore residents and housing advocates applauded yesterday the City Council's consideration of a bill to ensure the creation of more affordable housing - but said the legislation would have to be broadened to accomplish its goal of establishing mixed-income communities.

Specifically, residents and leaders asked at a hearing that the standards of affordability set in the bill be lowered and that the bill be extended to include more developments.

"The bill will not serve enough of Baltimore's residents," said Darryl Smith, secretary of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council in North Baltimore, one of several city communities where housing prices are appreciating rapidly.

Under the bill, introduced last month by 12th District Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young and co-sponsored by nearly all the council's members, housing developments that contain 30 or more units and receive a city subsidy, or are built on city-owned property, would have to set aside at least 10 percent of the units as affordable. According to the bill, affordable units are those that can be purchased or rented by households earning no more than 80 percent of the regional median household income, or about $55,000 a year.

Most of those who testified suggested that the bill be expanded to include all developments with 10 or more units, not just those receiving subsidies; that the number of units set aside be raised to 15 percent or 20 percent of the total; and that some of the units be reserved for households whose incomes are about $35,000 a year.

"We're delighted this conversation is taking place," said Carolyn Boitnott of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes fair housing. "We hope this bill can strengthened."

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who chaired the hearing, said he would hold a "work session" to consider the suggestions before bringing the bill to a vote.

Mitchell, who represents the 11th District, read a series of reports from city agencies that were supportive of the bill with some modifications. The most significant would expand the exemptions for developers from those whose deals had been approved to include those whose projects have been "substantially negotiated."

Wendy Blair, one of two developers to testify during the first two hours of the hearing, said she agreed with the bill's thrust but suggested that it exempt neighborhoods with large amounts of affordable housing. "I believe it needs to be more neighborhood- and community-targeted," she said.

Dennis Livingston, a community leader in Greenmount West, said provisions needed to be strengthened to ensure that any affordable units created remain within the reach of low-income people.

Michael Sarbanes, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said before his scheduled testimony that the bill "needs to be a model for the region" but added, "As now written, this bill doesn't provide a model."

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