A smart zoning move

March 28, 2005

SOMETIMES SOMEONE comes up with a good idea that seems so obvious that others can't help but wonder why no one thought of it sooner.

Baltimore City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young's proposal to tie mandatory creation of affordable housing to new and rehabilitated developments partly financed by the city is timely and forward-looking.

It makes economic sense for a city with a shortage of affordable housing to ensure that the problem doesn't get worse, particularly as rents and home prices rise along with a steady influx of new residents willing to pay more than many longtime residents can afford.

Mr. Young's legislation would require developers of new and rehabbed residential developments with more than 30 units to set aside at least 10 percent of the units for people whose household incomes are no more than about $50,000. This would benefit teachers, firefighters, police officers, clerical workers and others who live and work in the city and whom Mr. Young wants to keep here.

Developments built on city land or that receive financial aid from the city would be covered under the legislation. This plan could create more mixed-income communities in a city with far too many concentrated clusters of poverty. It would also give city housing officials more leverage with developers.

Developers could opt out, but it would cost them. They would be required to instead pay into a fund to promote affordable housing. While the set-aside requirement is preferable, the alternative at least won't chase developers away.

Mr. Young's legislation won't solve all the city's housing problems, but it's a start worthy of the City Council's support.

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