Persistent crime is the symptom of a lack of opportunity. A real leader would know that. A real leader also would know that public sector investment is at the root of economic development, which can provide opportunity and a better quality of life for everyone. We need leaders who will commit to bringing investment to the city so that Baltimore has a shot for real opportunity in the future.
It’s not a coincidence that we have seen an increase in crime in Baltimore precisely after our state leaders decided to forego the development of the Red Line in 2015. This investment would have brought $3 billion worth of development over the past three years to some of our most distressed communities, along with thousands of jobs. It also would have spurred the rehabilitation of many vacant buildings in and around the proposed transit stops. In 2015, our governor called it a “boondoggle.” What cost do our leaders place on the lives of the nearly 1,000 people we have lost since then?
Even if our leaders don’t believe crime is a symptom of deeper problems, we have plenty of glaring signs that people in Baltimore are desperate for help in the face of the lack of opportunity. Well beyond the estimated 3,000 homeless persons, nearly 10% of all households in Baltimore are housing insecure. We have a waitlist of 14,000 applications for housing assistance, and the list is now closed to new applicants because the average wait time is more than five years. What would you do if didn’t have secure housing for five years?
Here are just some ways that our leaders can help us all address crime by getting at the root cause of hopelessness that lack of opportunity engenders:
- Invest in mass transit and transit technology right now, not 10 years from now. We are the only East Coast city without a robust system, and we are falling way behind in terms of economic competitiveness. Who remembers that Washington, D.C., was the “murder capital” in the 1990s? Well, no one is saying that anymore and that region continues to invest in their metro system with new additions on the Silver and Purple lines. The upcoming 2020 Census may show that we as a city have fallen below 600,000 people for the first time in a century; we are deoxygenating as a city, which is the opposite of opportunity.
- Invest in rehabilitating our old, unhealthy housing stock. Provide triple, quadruple, 10 times the amount of funding for lead paint abatement or historic task credits or whatever other funds could cover the gap between how much it costs to rehabilitate our old housing versus what the market commands to sell it. Demolishing vacant and abandoned buildings alone is not an investment strategy.
- Invest in broadband competition so we all have cheaper rates of internet access. A quarter of households in Baltimore do not have access to the internet at home. In some neighborhoods, it’s as high as 42%. And Baltimore is well behind other cities in this measure. Only 52% of households earning less than $25,000 have internet at home in Baltimore; more than 70% of households at the same income in San Jose have internet at home. How do we expect our youth to gain access to the biggest opportunities in the 21st century if they don’t have access to the information highway?
- Invest in making sure Baltimore is prepared for climate change. Just ask anyone in Venice right now about how real the prospect is for many parts of our city to be submerged under water in 10 to 20 years. Investments in climate adaptation and mitigation would create real jobs, right now, to get Baltimore ready for the next 100 years.
We need leaders with bold ideas and a vision for providing opportunity for generations. Real leaders would focus relentlessly on bringing strategic, sustainable investments to Baltimore so that all of us have hope for the future. That is, if they were really serious about addressing crime.
Baltimoreans should demand nothing less.
Seema D. Iyer (email@example.com) is associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore.