Baltimore County made the right move with the approval by its Office of Administrative Hearings to allow for the development of Red Maple Place in Towson. Families and persons with disabilities will soon be able to live in safe, affordable and well-maintained homes and to take advantage of the well-resourced schools, jobs and transit that a downtown Towson location provides (”Baltimore County judge clears Red Maple affordable housing development in East Towson,” March 9).
Those who opposed Red Maple have been vocal and vehement. They have claimed that the development will “destroy property values” and “send good neighbors elsewhere.” They have described the building design as “Soviet-era style” and “like jail.” It is inflammatory but unfounded comments like these that are typically thrown up to oppose affordable housing in suburban areas.
The falsehood that affordable housing negatively impacts neighboring communities and property values continues to be perpetuated despite numerous studies that have examined the impact of affordable housing developments and debunked these myths. In fact, studies show that affordable housing in higher value neighborhoods can have positive effects on property values.
In this case, the administrative law judge’s thorough opinion found no evidence of harm to nearby communities including East Towson. In fact, she found that the project will preserve open space that is now zoned for development and will reduce the quantity and improve the quality of existing stormwater. The judge contrasted a history of past “incursions” into the adjacent historic African community of East Towson that cause displacement and other harm, stating that she would order the relocation of the Baltimore Gas and Electric substation if it were in her power to do so.
While we are very heartened by the county’s move, it should not have been such a difficult and lengthy struggle to reach this point. Unfortunately, Baltimore County has a long history of racially discriminatory housing policies that have excluded minority residents from high opportunity areas of the county. It is this history that led the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP (and others) to file a complaint against the county for violations of the Fair Housing Act in 2011. The outcome of that complaint paved the way for the Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) that required the county to support the development of at least 1,000 affordable homes in opportunity areas including Towson.
Many of the Towson residents who opposed Red Maple made it a point to say they “support affordable housing, just not on this site.” The NAACP Baltimore County Branch calls on these residents and the many Towson residents who support racial justice to work with us to identify additional locations for affordable housing in Greater Towson and to make Towson a more inclusive and equitable community.
We also call on BGE to remove the unsightly substation that was universally condemned by both supporters and opponents of Red Maple. As a living memorial to the formerly enslaved people who founded East Towson, we call on Baltimore County to assist the community in carrying out its plans to preserve this unique and resilient community and to protect it from encroaching gentrification.
We applaud this important step in addressing past discrimination and providing a bright future for Baltimore County and its residents.
Danita Tolson, Towson
The writer is president of the NAACP Baltimore County Branch.
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