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Council panel OKs affordable homes bill

The Baltimore Sun

A bill designed to increase Baltimore's stock of affordable housing by requiring it to be mixed into certain market-rate projects comfortably passed a City Council committee last night.

Supported by a politically powerful coalition of religious groups, urban advocacy organizations and unions, the inclusionary housing legislation will go to the City Council, where it is expected to come to a vote within the next few weeks.

"There are people who still say [the bill] won't work, and if we do it, it will backfire," said the Rev. Richard Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church downtown, part of the coalition. "It's not the perfect bill, but it's a good bill, and it will work."

The legislation has changed significantly since it was introduced last winter. At the time, opponents, including developers and leaders of some city agencies, called it "undoable."

It would immediately apply only to developers getting tax breaks or discounted land from the city. The subsidized builders would have to reserve 20 percent of their projects' units for low- to moderate-income residents. After 18 months, the bill would apply to developers who benefit from rezonings. They would have to make 10 percent of their housing affordable.

The measure would expand to include projects not receiving subsidies or zoning changes only if most of the houses in the city's market become unaffordable under an equation to be determined as part of the bill.

In Maryland, the only other jurisdictions with similar affordable-housing requirements are Montgomery and Frederick counties.

The bill passed the council's land use committee with five council members approving. Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector abstained, and Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. was absent.

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