Affordable housing reform is in the pipeline at City Hall. This past week, the City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee held its first public hearing on Bill CC-16-0735, an ordinance to expand Baltimore’s affordable and inclusionary Housing programs.

City agencies, housing advocates and economic development representatives weighed in on the city’s first major attempt to expand the current inclusionary housing law passed in July 2007.  Councilman Bill Henry, sponsor of the current of the proposed new ordinance, has repeatedly noted the limitations of the current law, which has yielded only 32 units of affordable housing.

Artist’s rendition of what the Port Covington Project would look like after completion. (Courtesy photo)

Artist’s rendition of what the Port Covington Project would look like after completion. (Courtesy photo)

The first draft of Henry’s Inclusionary Housing ordinance includes:

  • Reduces the affordable housing requirement from the current 20% to 10% for developments of more than 30 residential units that require major public subsidies.
  • Eliminates the City’s legal obligation to provide additional subsidies to developers to meet inclusionary housing requirements and eliminates waivers
  • Creates a Baltimore City Affordable Housing Fund, through a combination of general obligation bonds, and an increase in the transfer and recordation tax.
  • Replaces a developer’s option to substitute off-site inclusionary housing for on-site units and instead provides an option or payment of a substantial offset fee into the Affordable Housing fund if the developer chooses not to build inclusionary housing.
  • Extends the time period for which affordable housing units provided under the new law must remain affordable from 30 to 40 years.
  • Transforms the Inclusionary Housing Board into a Fair Housing Board.

Both pro-development and affordable housing advocates expressed concerns about the proposed ordinance. Andrew Kleine, the City’s Budget Director, went on record to oppose an increase in transfer and recordation taxes to fund the proposed Affordable Housing Fund.

Baltimore Development Corporation Vice President, Kimberly Clark, who serves on the City’s Inclusionary Housing Task Force, submitted testimony expressing concern that the law should apply only to rentals vs. sale housing. “While Baltimore Development Corporation has some concerns about the legislation in its current form, our objective is to work with the Task Force until we can establish a product that is supportive of development,” Clark told the AFRO.

Affordable housing advocates were equally concerned. “There are aspects of this bill that do plug some of the current loopholes,” said Barbara Samuels, Fair Housing Attorney with the Maryland ACLU, in testimony for the bill. “But it doesn’t plug all of them and in some ways takes a step backwards in lowering the percent affordable from 20% to 10% and omitting projects that benefit from zoning actions,” Samuels said. “Two steps forward and one step back.”

Mary Pat Clarke, co-sponsor of the bill, thought there was work to do, but said the bill stood up to feedback expressed in the hearing.  “It doesn’t sound fatal. It sounds like things we can work on in the next week,” she said.

Councilman Bill Henry (District 4) primary sponsor of the bill, made clear that he wants the new inclusionary housing ordinance passed before this year’s council session is over. He wants to ensure the proposed Port Covington Project will have a legal mandate, rather than guidelines for affordable housing requirements in their planned 7500 residential units.

The City exempted the Port Covington Project from a requirement to build affordable housing because under current law, the city must purchase the affordable units built by developers receiving subsidies at market rate.  Because the city’s Affordable Housing Fund can’t afford to pay for the housing, an exemption from the Affordable Housing requirement was given to the Port Covington Project.  Sagamore Development, which is spearheading the Port Covington Project, signed a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to voluntarily create a 10% goal or inclusionary housing if they can find funds from state or federal sources to pay for the housing.