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  April 17, 2018

Can a Government Program End Racist Government Practices?

Several proposals are now before the Baltimore city council that would fund affordable housing and restore racial equity in government agencies that have sown division in the past, but can it work?
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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. Baltimore is a city defined by inequality. But now a series of proposals are under consideration to address this. The question is, will they succeed?

At City Hall, recognition that the process of government itself has produced entrenched divisions between rich and poor and black and white.

BRANDON SCOTT: We have a story here we don't like to talk about, in that Baltimore is a hypersegregated in a very, a city that has a lot of inequality.

TAYA GRAHAM: Is why people are searching for ways to address them.

BRANDON SCOTT: The first bill would actually create an equity assessment program for the city of Baltimore, ensuring that every city agency assesses their programs, their policies, their procurement, their hiring practices. The city's capital projects would have to go through an equity assessment program to ensure that from now, here on going forward, the city is looking at everything that it does through a lens of equity.

TAYA GRAHAM: Councilman Brandon Scott says inequity is a byproduct of governance, spread throughout a variety of city agencies, which is why he has a bill that would not only assess the problem but create a charter amendment that would fund solutions, pegged at 3 percent of the police budget, which translates into roughly $15 million.

BRANDON SCOTT: But it's also going to take investment in dollars into, into dealing with the inequities across the city, be that racial inequity, be that gender inequity, be that income inequity. And we have to do that through tax dollars, and we think that's why it's important for us to have, in addition, the racial equity fund for Baltimore City so that programs, organizations in the city itself can spend dollars to deal with those issues directly.

TAYA GRAHAM: The Real News has reported on some of these entrenched inequities in the past. We investigated on how an inclusionary housing law has languished without funding.

LUCKY CROSBY: Out of ten units being built in this city, six of them should be affordable housing units based upon our tax rate, and based upon the general population. We're drawing anybody. And we're keeping those in who can't afford to leave.

TAYA GRAHAM: And how tax breaks continue to bolster development of luxury apartments around the Inner Harbor, while less affluent communities go without.

MATT HILL: I do think that this is a major step forward. That this is a real infusion of significant funds into doing permanently affordable housing.

TAYA GRAHAM: But a coalition of community organizations says the lack of affordable housing is exactly what their plan will address.

DESTINY WATFORD: So the question becomes, will we collectively create a concrete program for action? One that is serious, one that rises to the challenges we face? Today marks the beginning of a new path that we have paved. A new p ath our city can walk down with us. A new test for us, for Baltimore. A test of true democracy. A test that will answer how we will do development without displacement in our neighborhoods.

TAYA GRAHAM: Which is why they gathered at City Hall to push for a law that would create a permanent funding stream for a $20 million affordable housing fund.

TERREL ASKEW: For 20 years I was able to call Remington my home, until my landlord sold the property out from under m e. It was brought to my attention that Remington had become in demand. And so prices, housing prices were up, and I was out.

TAYA GRAHAM: The group hopes to use a tax levied on real estate transactions to make the $20 million available annually to build affordable housing and refurbish vacants.

MATT HILL: But I know, talking to a number of community members that are interested in accessing this funding, that's what they want to do. They want to take their neighborhoods back and get rid of these vacants, put people back to work, and make sure that the development benefits the people that are living in these neighborhoods.

TAYA GRAHAM: Efforts that have wide support on the council.

JACK YOUNG: Neighborhood development is the key to increasing Baltimore's population, decreasing vacant homes, and improving our local economy. I'm happy to partner with Chairman Bullock and the rest of our council colleagues to boost an agenda for affordable housing.

TAYA GRAHAM: But still lacks full endorsement from the mayor.

JOHN BULLOCK: So we have had some initial conversations with the mayor. We look forward to having more discussions around this. We know that she has ponied up for some money for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We definitely know we need some more, so we're looking forward to having more conversations about it. She has not signed on to this proposal, I know, but I do know her team has been in discussion with us.

TAYA GRAHAM: It's another measure that would change the process of governance that produced the city's stark divide between rich and poor. The question is, will it succeed? This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.


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