Low-rent reduction

Renewal: Baltimore County bill aims to reduce substandard housing, not displace residents.

March 28, 2000

BALTIMORE County officials need to tell folks in Essex-Middle River and Randallstown that condemnation legislation wending through Annapolis is not designed to dispossess them. Recent meetings in both communities demonstrate that few understand the principles underlying the county's plan.

Both areas suffer from an excess of substandard multifamily housing. Apartment owners cut rents to fill their units, which limits profits and leads to less diligent maintenance and almost no chance for property improvement. Blight begins. And as deterioration spreads, those with the means leave, too. Only the poorest remain.

County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger believes that the county has to take aggressive action to stop the downward spiral and prevent a greater concentration of poor families in these communities. His plan calls for reducing the number of existing apartments and prevents any more from being constructed.

In Randallstown, the county wants to remove 149 units from a complex with 598 apartments and a large vacancy rate. With fewer units, the balance between supply and demand will be restored. Owners would then be able to maintain rents that allow them to receive acceptable returns and permit them to maintain their properties.

Before bulldozers start tearing down the first blighted apartment unit in Essex or in Randallstown, a long and complicated process will take place. Tenants and businesses will likely have years -- rather than months -- to make relocation plans. No one will be summarily put out of a house or place of business as soon as the legislation passes.

Some people will be displaced. Businesses may have to move. But all the affected adresses are specified in the bill.

These are the costs of new investment in a community. County officials must explain that the process will be fair. For whatever reason, that message doesn't seem to be getting through.

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