Development in Baltimore has to benefit as many as possible and should not look different based on what neighborhood you live in says Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), whose district contains the widest wealth gap of any in the state.

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Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), whose 46th district has the widest wealth gap of any in the state. (Courtesy photo, office of Del. Lierman)

Lierman is a freshman delegate from the 46th district, which includes Baltimore’s vaunted inner-harbor area as well as some of the city’s most struggling neighborhoods like Cherry Hill and Westport.

While running for the House of Delegates, Lierman says she went door-knocking by herself in every neighborhood in her district, an effort that won her the highest percentage of votes cast (28.1 percent) of any candidate for the 46th in the 2014 Democratic Primary (which in Baltimore—let’s face it—is the general election where most local state offices are concerned). Lierman also garnered comparable percentages in Westport (receiving 26.74 and 28.24 percent of the vote in Westport’s two voting precincts) and Cherry Hill (a slightly lower 25.58, 25.51, and 24.23 percent in Cherry Hill’s three voting precincts).

Though some might expect Lierman to feel pulled in different directions by the varied circumstances in her district, she says that has not been her experience.

“The thing that is amazing to me about our district, and that I worry sometimes people in our city don’t realize, is that no matter what zip code you live in, no matter what your neighborhood looks like, you’re a mom or dad, you’re a brother or sister, you’re a grandparent, we all want the same thing.  We want great schools to send our kids to, we want clean, green neighborhoods that are safe, where we can walk around and know our neighbors. We want jobs that we can feel fulfilled in, that we can support our families on,” said Lierman.

While she does not see a great divide in terms of what the different parts of her district want for their neighborhoods or the city of Baltimore, Lierman acknowledges that there is an important divide in terms of how close different neighborhoods in the 46th are to seeing those desires fulfilled. The focus then, especially where development is concerned, needs to be on ensuring that development is done in a way that helps everyone, and not just some.

“I want to make sure that we are filling the needs of the most residents that we can. For instance, if we’re putting in a multi-family unit dwelling in an urban area, and the idea is that they are multi-bedroom housing and so you think, ‘Oh, this would be good for families,’ but they’re 10 blocks from the closest park—we’ve got to make sure that we’re also thinking about, ‘Well, would a family want to live in this apartment when it has no access to outdoor space at all?’  Probably not,” said Lierman.

Lierman says that though she is pro-development, she is concerned about the lack of affordable housing being built as part of the development boom that is occurring in her district.  But creating more affordable housing means looking beyond just capital funds for affordable housing construction projects.

“I’m open to anything that builds affordable housing units. . . . The Home Act, which prohibits source of discrimination (e.g., refusing to rent to someone whose rental income is a section 8 housing voucher as opposed to a full-time salary) was not introduced this year but it has been introduced in the past, and that, I also believe, is an important piece of legislation that I’d like to see come back at some point. . . . But I also think there are bills we don’t think of as having an impact on getting people in homes that do, for instance the Maryland Second Chance Act, and similar expungement legislation,” said Lierman, who notes that criminal records disqualify many persons for housing once discovered on background checks.

Another important need for the city is a more effective public transportation system, since public transportation is essential to economic development.  Lierman introduced a bill this session to create an oversight board for the Maryland Transit Administration, which she says “is not serving the people of Baltimore in the way that it should be, or the people of Maryland for that matter.”

“Public transportation strengthens the economy, it creates jobs, it reduces traffic congestion, it reduces air pollution.  Transit helps maintain the vitality of urban areas, and we are not as connected as we should be,” said Lierman.

Lierman says that she received good feedback on her transit reform bill, but that it was put on hold this legislative session to give new Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn one year to whip the transit administration into shape.  Though she had to press pause on her bill, Lierman says she nonetheless introduced language into the state budget which will require the Maryland Transit Administration to post a plan for improvement on its website by July 1, and to provide quarterly updates on its progress to the House Appropriations Committee, on which Lierman sits.

Lierman says she is grateful to have been assigned to the Appropriations Committee since it allows her to keep an eye on various areas affecting families in Baltimore City, whether affordable housing, public transportation, or funding for Baltimore City public schools (which faced deep cuts under the budget proposed by Governor Larry Hogan until the Appropriations Committee, under the leadership of chair Del. Maggie McIntosh—D, Baltimore City—managed to restore much of it).

“It behooves every neighborhood in Baltimore City to make sure that every child’s school is strong, that every neighborhood is safe, that everybody can access a quality education, and has access to good jobs,” said Lierman.

ralejandro@afro.com