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  December 22, 2017

Baltimore Councilman's Radical Idea: Tax Breaks for Poor Neighborhoods

A councilman and a group of activists are pushing several proposals to address Baltimore's burgeoning affordable housing crisis by targeting subsidies at neighborhoods the city has long neglected
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SPEAKER: We need all the help we can get around here. The Habitat, that's a good project. We need that.

STEPHEN JANIS: On this nondescript side street, Councilman Bill Henry has a radical idea, at least for Baltimore.

BILL HENRY: We've seen lots of examples of this for big downtown TIFs around the edges of the harbor and such. But one of the things that we could do is something like what's happening down here in Woodbourne-McCabe.

STEPHEN JANIS: He wants to give tax breaks to stimulate investment in poor communities, not just wealthy neighborhoods. Part of his solution are to offer TIFs to projects like this rehab program managed by Habitat for Humanity.

BILL HENRY: When they improve those houses and take what was vacant and blighted and turn them into great occupied houses with neighbors in it who are going to be part of the community. When they do that, they're going to also raise the value of the properties around them.

STEPHEN JANIS: TIFs, or Tax Increment Finance deals allow developers to invest their property taxes in construction and were intended to help blighted areas attract investment. But as Henry notes, that is not what is happened in Baltimore where construction cranes dot the skyline in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods while areas like this go without. Which is one of the reasons protesters gathered at City Hall last week.

SPEAKER: We are asking the city to include $20 million in the Affordable Housing budget.

STEPHEN JANIS: To hold Mayor Catherine Pugh to her promise to start a $20 million Affordable Housing Fund, a move supported the group United Not Blighted who say the city's affordable housing shortage is a result of long term policy mistakes.

SPEAKER: We're in a moral crisis. I mean, we drive around our city and we see people that are forced to live in tents and under underpasses and try to find housing for a night. And what they need is housing for the long haul and housing that they can afford, and that is sustainable for them and their families.

STEPHEN JANIS: Pugh designated just $10 million in the city's latest bond offering for affordable housing, a move she defended but advocates say falls short.

SPEAKER: City Hall's being protested because they said that money that's being allocated with the bond isn't enough to fund the Affordable Housing Fund that they want to fund, and they feel like you promised that and they were upset about it. How do you respond?

MAYOR PUGH: Well, first of all, let me just say that that's not the budget. That's the bond bills.

STEPHEN JANIS: Which is why the council is now focused on changing the city's Inclusionary Housing Law, an ordinance that requires developers who are subsidized by taxpayers to build affordable housing but has no source of funding, and to date has produced just 32 units. City Council President Jack Young and Councilman John Bullock, who chairs the task force say they plan to bolster the law.

SPEAKER: Well, the goal is to make sure that we maximize all of our efforts to give as many affordable housing as possible.

SPEAKER: Because right now, what we have is not working. And in several years, the program being in existence, we're talking about only a few dozen units being created and that's just not enough.

STEPHEN JANIS: But will it be in time, advocates wonder, for a city in dire need of help now.

SPEAKER: Year after year, there's this serious lack of funding for affordable housing for across the city which has been an urgent need for decades.

STEPHEN JANIS: This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.


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