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Kamenetz taking leadership on transit, housing

As for that idea I floated a few months ago: that Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake should work together on a comprehensive, post-Freddie Gray, post-riot plan for the city's recovery. Forget about it. There are no takers.

By his actions, Hogan has made clear that he has little interest in offering help in any big, transformative way. He killed the Red Line at one of the worst times in the city's history. He refused to release $11 million authorized by the General Assembly for the city schools. Three months after the riot, there's no apparent relationship with City Hall. On Thursday, the governor announced the closure of the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center, a good move, but without so much as a courtesy call to Rawlings-Blake.

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The mayor is an urban Democrat. Hogan is a suburban Republican. These two coming together to tackle the city's deep-seated problems — poverty, violent crime, drug addiction, unemployment, lack of affordable housing — would have been historic, a model for the nation. But it's a dream.

This is not simply a personality clash, though it can read that way — a mayor who comes across too cool for school and likes to study things before taking action, a governor who appears to be in a big hurry to counter the actions (or inactions) of his Democratic predecessor.

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Ultimately, this is just partisan politics. It's same-old/same-old at a time when Baltimore needs something new, something more.

Addressing the long-festering problems revealed to the world in the aftermath of the April unrest will require big thinking and a fresh start. It will require, first of all, progressive leadership that genuinely recognizes Baltimore's value to the region and the state. Someone around here needs to muster minds and resources for once-and-for-all approaches to problems that lift Baltimore and, with it, the entire region.

Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive, appears to be willing to take on this role.

Kamenetz chairs the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, the regional planning group that brings together elected the leaders of the city and surrounding counties in a collaborative effort to make the Baltimore region "a safer, healthier and more prosperous place to live, learn, work and play."

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Soon after Hogan killed the Red Line, which would have served western Baltimore County as well as the city, Kamenetz asked the council to come up with an alternative plan to improve public transportation in the region. He set a 90-day deadline for the report. That ought to be manageable, given that a lot of the work already has been done.

Just a couple of months ago, the Opportunity Collaborative, a kind of think tank created by the council, delivered more than 100 recommendations to address socioeconomic disparities in the region, and public transportation was a key ingredient to the prescription. The region needs a transit system that connects people in low-opportunity areas (few jobs and lousy housing) to high-opportunity areas (good-paying jobs and decent, affordable housing).

We also need a transit system that will attract more riders.

To that end, the council might want to blow up the Maryland Transit Administration's bus routes and start over. The city of Houston did that with a sweeping change to its bus system, promising to make it more relevant and accessible to more people. The new system goes into effect this month.

The Maryland governor has minimal interest in funding new public transportation projects; he prefers highways. We get that. But the least he can do is order the MTA to work with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council toward a complete overhaul of the bus routes in the Baltimore region.

Of course, fixing public transportation is just one piece of this.

Improving opportunities throughout the region — and helping Baltimore in the process — must include more affordable housing. The working poor, people with disabilities and the elderly need places to live. There have been all sorts of surveys of the housing available for low-income families, and the results are so consistently bleak.

Most recently, the Urban Institute found not a single county in the nation had enough affordable housing to keep up with the demand from the poorest of renters — that is, families of four with an annual income of $25,700. In Baltimore County, there were only 22 units for every 100 households at that income level.

Recognizing the need, and feeling pressure from housing advocates, Kamenetz has developed a special fund to support more mixed-income developments in the county. He's done this with County Council support. The fund stands at $9 million now, and Kamenetz expects some $30 million in incentives to be available over the next 10 years for developers willing to include affordable units in future housing projects.

That might not sound like much, but it's a start. It shows progressive leadership. It recognizes the immediate need for affordable housing in the county, and it helps Baltimore by creating housing opportunities for hundreds of families on waiting lists and motivated to move to a better place in life.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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