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Op-ed

Baltimore’s inclusionary housing law is expiring; let’s create a better one | GUEST COMMENTARY

Since enactment in 2007, Baltimore City’s Inclusionary Housing law has been ineffective — generating only 37 housing units in 14 years; this is unacceptable. The current law expires on June 30. Councilwoman Odette Ramos has introduced Council Bill 22-0195, which will correct shortcomings in the existing law.

Inclusionary housing laws generally require developers of certain projects to set aside a percentage of new units to be more affordable and help create more socio-economically integrated communities. However, under the city’s law, waivers are easily obtained by developers who state that producing inclusionary units is too costly. Additionally, the current law includes few evaluation and reporting requirements. Neither the Department of Housing and Community Development nor developers are required to report on key compliance metrics.

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Council Bill 22-0195, with sponsor amendments that will be introduced, corrects deficiencies in the current law. The bill removes barriers to the production of inclusionary housing units by:

  1. Reducing the minimum number of units required to be affordable to “low-income” residents (about $55,740 for a family of two) from 20% to 10% of all units in the development;
  2. Requiring the developer to set aside an additional 5% of the units for households who have even lower incomes if the City provides additional subsidy;
  3. Applying the law only to developments with significant public subsidies or rezoning benefits;
  4. Removing all waivers;
  5. And enhancing reporting requirements and enforcement mechanisms.

The bill will also require developers to affirmatively market the affordable units to households who have historically been excluded from new developments, including Black families, persons who use vouchers and other residents who have experienced discrimination.

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Baltimore’s current development subsidy policy is far from inclusionary. From Fiscal Year 2014 through FY 2023, Baltimore City will have given developers over $75 million in one type of special tax break alone to produce 6,261 new market-rate units — mostly in neighborhoods with predominantly white, higher income residents, thereby reinforcing racial and economic segregation. If Council Bill 22-0195 had been in place since 2014, Baltimore would have gained 939 new, affordable rental housing units. Instead, Baltimore gained virtually zero affordable units under the status quo. The city gave developers over $20 million in special tax breaks in FY 2022 alone with no affordable units. In effect, Baltimore subsidizes luxury apartment development in an area author Lawrence Brown calls the “white L” with no diversified, inclusive development plan.

Council Bill 22-0195 would bring Baltimore City into line with national best practices. Inclusionary housing laws around the country have created 110,000 housing units in 258 programs, mostly since 2000. Montgomery County’s law has produced over 5,400 affordable units. Yes, Montgomery County is far different from Baltimore City, but even Detroit produced 119 inclusionary housing units in FY 2021 under its revised law. The secret to successful inclusionary housing laws: When the developer receives a special public benefit (subsidy, rezoning, etc.), a modest amount of units must be provided at more affordable rents — no exceptions. The amended inclusionary housing bill, if passed, will adopt this best practice and provide more affordable housing opportunities to create more diverse communities.

The choice of whether to build an inclusionary Baltimore extends beyond housing. Housing policy is school policy: Children do better academically in more economically and racially integrated classrooms. Housing is health care: Health outcomes consistently improve when individuals have access to affordable, safe, habitable housing. Employment, public safety, accessibility and other parts of a dignified life are all determined in many ways by whether one has access to integrated, affordable housing.

Inclusionary housing is not a panacea for structural problems that require much more deeply affordable, community-driven housing than this one policy can provide. But this bill is a start that will help the city meet its federal requirement to affirmatively further fair housing. For these reasons, a diverse coalition supports the amended billm including: the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, Baltimore Renters United, Beyond the Boundaries, Bridge Maryland, the Community Development Network, SHARE, Citizens Planning and Housing Association, Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, Public Justice Center and many others.

Now is the time to close the loopholes in the current law and chart a new course for an inclusive, equitable Baltimore with every new development. We urge the mayor and City Council to hold a hearing and pass the legislation before the law sunsets at the end of the month.

Charmeda McCready (charm@cphamd.org) is executive director of Citizens Planning and Housing Association. Matt Hill (hillm@publicjustice.org) is an attorney with the Public Justice Center and Baltimore Renters United. Maureen Daly (maureen.daly4@gmail.com) is co-chair of the steering committee of Beyond the Boundaries, a program of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.


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