The first two steps in providing safe and affordable housing for poor and working class families are to: 1) make it a priority; and, 2) build the strongest team possible within the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that is capable of building consensus around complex and contentious issues, setting clear goals, accessing government and private sector capital resources, creating public private partnerships, and effective project management.
No single program can produce enough safe, decent and affordable housing to meet the growing need in Baltimore City. A variety of programs is needed to leverage local, state, federal and private funds. The public and private sectors must work together towards a common goal.
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In our first six months, my administration has demonstrated leadership on the issue affordable housing. Some of our accomplishments include:
- Inclusionary Housing Bill. My administration led the efforts to find common ground on landmark inclusionary housing legislation, which was approved by City Council in December. Prior to the direct involvement of my administration, the bill floundered. After many meetings and lengthy negotiations, housing advocates and developers endorsed passage of a consensus bill that establishes affordable housing targets for projects receiving major city assistance, including the rezoning of land from industrial to residential. Under the bill, redevelopment projects such as the planned two million square foot redevelopment of the Westport Waterfront will include housing affordable to a range of incomes.
- Increased funding for Affordable Housing. We created and funded the new Inclusionary Housing Offset Fund with a $2 million appropriation in the fiscal year 2008 budget. In addition, we increased CDBG contributions to the Affordable Housing Fund (AHP) to $6 million, doubling the figure from last year. As City Council President, I led the effort to create the AHP, which was established to promote economically diverse housing in Baltimore City neighborhoods. AHP funds are used to acquire and demolish blighted properties in order to create sites for development of modern, economically diverse neighborhoods with housing opportunities affordable to households of all incomes.
- Support to Non-Profit Organizations. This year, we increased by 15% CDBG grants to nonprofit organizations in the coming year. $4.8 million of the CDBG funds will support the administrative and service delivery operations of 64 nonprofit organizations. The funds being awarded reflect a 15.2% increase over last year’s allocation.
- Moving to Work (MTW). Working with our legislative team, we succeeded in preserving the Housing Authority of Baltimore City’s designation and participation in HUD’s MTW demonstration program. A little known but critically important demonstration program, MTW allows public housing authorities to design and test ways to promote self-sufficiency among assisted families, achieve programmatic efficiency and reduce costs, and increase housing choice for low-income households. Flexibility under MTW has enabled the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to increase occupancy rates to 94% from 88% in the last year. Our goal is 97% occupancy within nine month.
- Preserving Affordable Units. We have targeted use of federal HOME funds to preserve and renovate older affordable housing units. In May 2007, for example, DHCD sought and received Board of Estimates approval to use HOME funds to preserve or create a total of 430 affordable rental and homeownership units at four projects throughout the city.
- Beyond Bricks and Mortar. Modeled after nationally acclaimed projects such as the Village at East Lake in Atlanta, my administration is committed to creating viable mixed-income communities. We are expanding the scope of existing housing redevelopments such as Barclay, Poppleton, Uplands, Park Heights and Orchard Ridge (formally Claremont Freedom) to include new and improved public schools, expanded recreational opportunities, and wraparound services for families such as early childhood education, job training, and programs for seniors. Combined, these new neighborhoods will create several thousand new housing units affordable to the poor and working class. We must create new mixed-income communities in which children of all backgrounds can envision success and happiness.