Affordable housing at issue

City Council hearing focuses on recommendations from panel

October 05, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Joyce Smith, who owns a house in Baltimore's Franklin Square neighborhood, has watched her daughter, a 29-year-old professional and single mother, search in earnest for a home in the city. She recently checked out a house in the 1700 block of W. Lombard St., and the price sent her reeling: $275,000.

"Why should my granddaughter have to move outside the Beltway and not be able to spend a night at her grandmother's house?" Smith asked last night at a City Council hearing on affordable housing.

Elizabeth R. Sherman, 77, said she and many of her neighbors in McElderry Park have been getting letters for two years from developers clamoring to buy the modest brick rowhouses there.

"I'm concerned that it's going to happen, because we're not able to fight it," Sherman said. "We're going to take what they give us. We can't afford to move to another house."

Their stories were among many told at the hearing on recommendations of the Baltimore City Task Force on Inclusionary Zoning and Housing, created by the council last year to provide a comprehensive plan for the city to create more affordable housing.

Michael Sarbanes, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and chairman of the task force, outlined its main recommendations: establishing an inclusionary housing trust fund using 20 percent of the proceeds from city transfer taxes and recordation fees; ensuring that at least 20 percent of a new development is affordable where there is a public subsidy or significant rezoning involved; and preserving existing high-quality affordable rental properties.

The task force findings will serve as a framework for legislation being crafted by the council and other city officials.

"We don't have to beg people to live in Baltimore," Sarbanes said. "People want to come here. If that growth's going to happen, how's it going to happen?"

On the ballot Nov. 7, said Council President Sheila Dixon, are a bond question that would allocate $10 million for inclusionary housing and a referendum question on establishing an affordable-housing trust fund. But she cautioned that unlike the trust fund recommended by the task force, the fund on the ballot has no source commitment. Dixon urged voters to vote "yes" for both.

The City Council created an affordable-housing program last year as part of the negotiations for construction of a $305 million hotel. It had been largely funded with $10 million from the city's budget surplus.

Last month, city officials approved a plan to spend $10.7 million from the fund to tear down more than 400 housing units in Cherry Hill, Poppleton, Claremont and Oliver neighborhoods. Knocking down significant portions of neglected housing, city officials hope, will make developing affordable-housing units there more feasible.

Dozens of people representing civic, religious, civil rights and union groups gave support to the task force findings in testimony before the council.

The hearing was preceded by a rally outside City Hall, where groups vowed to work for affordable housing. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, told them he would work to provide federal support, and that mixed-use development is the best way to ensure that pockets of deep poverty are eradicated.

At least one person who testified expressed trepidation.

"Where we think the task force oversteps is by creating a situation where all development requires a public subsidy to support mixed-use development," said Joseph T. Landers III, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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