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The widening gap between Baltimore housing haves and have-nots

Housing activists call for the city to fund the affordable housing trust. (Jean Marbella, Baltimore Sun video)

I wholeheartedly agree with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s recent glowing statement: “I think this is going to be a wonderful, wonderful undertaking. …We’re going to make sure money will go to the neighborhoods that have not had any development in years, and have been forgotten” (“Baltimore agrees to ‘historic’ funding for affordable housing,” Aug. 13). President Young was talking about Mayor Catherine Pugh and City Council leaders’ recent agreement to fund an affordable housing trust, two years after Baltimore voters approved its creation, committing an eventual $20 million a year to the fund. The fund will at least make a start in creating, rehabilitating and preserving desperately needed affordable housing units in the city.

The glow of excitement had hardly receded from President Young’s words when this Sunday we were confronted with very different words and a very different circumstance: “This is a beautiful city. People should believe in it.” Those sentiments were expressed by Stephen Gorn, president and CEO of Questar Properties, as he lauded the “urban renaissance of the city” marked by the launch of the development firm’s $160 million 44-four story apartment tower at 144 Light Street (“Luxury living with pool, pet spa and $8,000 rents: Inner Harbor tower tests Baltimore’s high-end market,” Aug. 22). The new apartment building boasts among an extraordinary array of amenities, real grass in the outdoor park on the 7th floor which also includes a giant TV screen, grill and pool with a waterfall, and, if you are after penthouse living, units at $8,000 a month rent.

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It’s too easy to “traffic in mockery” to borrow a poignant phrase from the poet W.B. Yeats. It doesn’t assuage the periodic but useless urge to weep when we contemplate the ever widening chasm between the wealthy and the poor in our great city, the steady growth in homelessness and the squalor and despair in so many of the city’s neighborhoods that Mayor Pugh and President Young mentioned. Only this spring, we learned of a new federal policy, the “Making Affordable Housing Work Act” proposed by Secretary Ben Carson of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which, with utter perversity, would raise rents for very poor families who receive housing aid and establish regulations for mandatory work requirements, policies that will guarantee profoundly negative impacts on the majority of our low-income citizens living in assisted housing.

So yes, Baltimore is indeed a beautiful city, but it could be so much more beautiful, and just, in the vitally important realm of policy decisions regarding equitable distribution of funds for affordable housing and community development throughout the city. Let’s honor the passionate dedication and persistence of the many small community groups that came together under the aegis of the Baltimore Housing Roundtable. They pushed and pushed the city to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, propelled forward by the vision of a genuine “urban renaissance.”

Jane Harrison

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