Baltimore ought to roll out the welcome mat for yuppies

July 28, 2006|By JOSEPH T. "JODY" LANDERS

It should come as wonderful news to everyone concerned about Baltimore that the city has begun to show strong signs of reversing a four-decade population decline marked by economic disinvestment, little or no job growth and a stagnant housing market. Ironically, just as the city is starting to see signs of reinvestment, punctuated by long-overdue appreciation in housing values, there are some who see dark clouds in this healthy picture.

Urban policy expert David Rusk, in a recent Sun article on the Baltimore City Task Force on Inclusionary Zoning and Housing, stated, "Baltimore would not be well served by being wall-to-wall yuppie. You need diversity."

This is both misleading and misguided. It implies that yuppies (young urban professionals) are less than desirable, because they dilute the city's diversity quotient and their appetite for higher-priced houses has created a housing affordability crisis.

The truth is that Baltimore has an abundance of affordable housing. It is true that in the Baltimore region, the number of homes selling for less than $140,000 decreased in the past five years from 45 percent to 15 percent of the market. However, 90 percent of the homes priced below $140,000 are in Baltimore City. At this writing, there were 1,264 properties listed for sale in Baltimore below $140,000, and 140 properties at that price or below in all of the five surrounding counties combined.

Baltimore's housing prices are the most affordable in the region. Some of the recommendations put forth by the task force imply - somewhat ominously - that Baltimore is in danger of being overrun by a plague of highly skilled, high-income professionals, who want to buy homes and live in the city.

If this is the horrible fate that awaits those of us who have kept faith with the city and worked tirelessly to promote the city and its affordable neighborhoods, then I can only say: Bring on the hordes!

As to the issue of diversity, Baltimore is, has been and undoubtedly will remain a fairly diverse city. Just drive through the various neighborhoods and you will find an incredible range of people. Granted, it may be argued that some neighborhoods are more diverse than others. Yet, historically, neighborhoods have always reflected particular ethnic, income, class, educational, housing style and even religious preferences.

The success of Baltimore as a thriving and vibrant city does not depend on the degree to which each and every neighborhood represents all of these characteristics and preferences. It does depend on how well the city's political and civic leaders serve and stitch together this patchwork pattern of different neighborhoods into a single fabric or quilt.

Many Baltimore neighborhoods offer affordable and decent housing. The problem of keeping and attracting the middle class does not arise from a dearth of affordable housing; rather, the challenge is convincing low- and moderate-income home buyers to buy and invest in the neighborhoods they can afford.

To do this, we need to continue to deal with the drug epidemic, reduce crime, improve schools, keep neighborhoods clean and do a better job of maintaining public parks and recreational facilities. All of these initiatives are going to require increased tax dollars, which depend on continued growth in the population - and especially among high-wage earners willing to buy homes and live in the city.

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers is executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. His e-mail is jtlanders@realtorsbaltimore.com.

Clarence Page is on vacation. His column will resume Aug. 8.

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