Enough is Enough!

Last Friday, the Baltimore Regional Housing Campaign (BRHC) wrote this letter to the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Raymond A Skinner, asking him to use his leverage to persuade the Baltimore County Council to reconsider their veto of a proposed affordable town-home development in Rosedale.  The development had previously been approved by both the County and State.

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Once again, NIMBY opposition and councilmanic courtesy in Baltimore County have combined to derail affordable rental housing that would serve families with children. The tenor of the dialogue, including the opponents’ use of thinly veiled stereotypes to generate fears of crime, was so over the top it even earned a rebuke from the County Executive, Kevin Kamenetz.

Veteran reporter Barry Rascovar, tells us that no one with a sense of history should be surprised  by the County Council’s words or deeds.   In a piece aptly titled “Baltimore County’s Housing Exclusion Continues,” Rascovar outlines the shameful history of Baltimore County’s resistance to subsidized housing, a futile effort to keep African Americans bottled up in Baltimore City.

The claims of Councilwoman Cathy Bevins that Rosedale already has too much low-income housing ignores this history and is simply not true.  HUD data shows only 16 households with vouchers currently live in Rosedale.  There are currently no other subsidized housing developments for families in Rosedale.

Indeed, the proposed Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) development of 50 town-homes would be first newly constructed family housing to be built anywhere in Baltimore County since 1999.  Much of the older low-income housing that once served families in Southeastern Baltimore County, nearly 4,000 units, has been bought by the County and demolished.  As shown in this map, the County has actively sought LIHTC resources for senior housing, while leaving children and their families out in the cold.

Rosedale may not be the most affluent neighborhood in Baltimore County, but it is hardly a “very poor” area as Councilwoman Bevins claims.  The poverty rate in the census tract where the new development would be located is 16.1%, somewhat above the average for the prosperous Baltimore region (11.6%), but close to the national average (14.3%).

The BRHC agrees with Councilwoman Bevins on one point — Baltimore County must do more to develop affordable housing throughout the County, especially in affluent areas.  Working to promote LIHTC and other affordable housing in communities that offer a good environment for raising children is at the core of BRHC’s mission.  The BRHC invites Councilwoman Bevins and her colleagues on the Council to work with us to identify good locations for family housing in a broad range of neighborhood that share Rosedale’s history of excluding affordable rental housing.

The ball is now squarely in Secretary Skinner’s court.  If  Secretary Skinner is unable to persuade the County Council to drop their opposition to the development, then he should move forward despite the Council’s action.  To withdraw financing and acquiesce in the exclusionary tactics long practiced by Baltimore County, would make the State of Maryland a partner in Baltimore County’s shame.  Enough is enough!

Contact Baltimore County Council and the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Raymond A Skinner, and let them know.

A Rich History of Obstructing Affordable Housing

section 8While poverty continues to hit the City the hardest, a new geography of poverty and race is emerging in the suburbs. Yet Baltimore County’s leaders, backed by misinformation and an excuse of “councilmanic courtesy,” continue to reject affordable housing. They are effectively contributing to crime and poverty in the region. Barry Rascover describes how this antiquated behavior by Baltimore County’s Council is rooted in a deep history of racial hostility toward low-income housing for families.

The full article found at politicalmaryland.com is pasted below:

Nov. 25, 2013 — No one with a sense of history should be surprised by Baltimore County Council’s unanimous rejection of a $13.7 million housing development for low-income families in Rosedale on the county’s eastside.

The county has a long record of strongly opposing housing assistance for families with low or moderate incomes.

Indeed, any politician who ignores the hyper-sensitivity of county voters to keeping the jurisdiction safe for “folks like us” risks defeat.

Even the County Council’s lone African American, Ken Oliver, ran for cover last week. He abstained. Oliver voiced heated objections at the council’s private work session but not at the public meeting.

This shameful exclusionary trend — woefully out of step with demographics — isn’t new.

A History Lesson

Nearly 50 years ago, Baltimore County politicians railed against open housing.

When Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin invited Baltimore County Executive Spiro T. Agnew in 1964 to work out a metropolitan wide approach to open occupancy laws — hardly a revolutionary request – Agnew rejected the offer for fear of negative voter response.

Open housing laws, Agnew said, “invade the rights of property guaranteed by our federal constitution.”

Fear of change, and especially fear that poor blacks would destabilize neighborhoods, struck an ugly chord with county residents, especially on the conservative, lower-middle class eastside.

As a “progressive” county executive, Agnew did propose a $27 million urban renewal bond issue for deteriorating parts of Towson and Catonsville.

Foes, though, saw it as a plot to bring public housing, and poor city blacks, to the county.

On election day, voters rejected the bond issue by a 3-2 margin.

‘Malicious, Socialistic’

A month later, the County Council rebuffed Agnew’s request to launch a study of blight in the county.

In early 1965, he proposed a local slum clearance program. Within weeks, the County Council killed it.

The atmosphere among opponents was super-charged. They called Agnew’s plans a “malicious, socialistic cancer.”

County resistance to integrated housing accounted for perennial candidate George P. Mahoney’s surprise victory in the 1966 Democratic race for governor. Mahoney ran on the openly racist slogan, “Your home is your castle — protect it.”

Conservative Mahoney beat liberal Congressman Carlton Sickles by a mere 1,939 votes. He won the election in Baltimore County, where he ran up a huge 19,495-vote lead over Sickles (42 percent to 21 percent).

That paved the way for the more “liberal” Agnew’s election as governor.

The Anderson Years

His successor in Towson, Dale Anderson, had a well deserved reputation for opposing integration and affordable housing. He and his cohorts fed voter fears.

Here’s an example: At a 1970 meeting in Rosedale, with a smiling Anderson in attendance, Councilman Wallace Williams said, “Dale Anderson and the rest of the team will continue to fight hard to stop any major government-subsidized programs with strings attached from coming to Baltimore County.”

Then Williams added in his southern drawl, “And you know what I mean. You know what I mean.”

Indeed the cheering crowd did.

In November 1970, Baltimore County voters rejected by better than 2-1 a state referendum setting up a Community Development Administration. Anything that hinted at public housing met staunch resistance.

Venetoulis’ Reform Efforts

Reform county executive Ted Venetoulis tried in 1975 to improve the housing situation with $40 million in federal funds. But the County Council and the county’s delegation in Annapolis vetoed that effort.

Next, Venetoulis put forth an urban renewal grant proposal. It met the same fate.

Baltimore County didn’t even have a housing agency until 1987. Three years later, a $2.5 million county bond issue for housing programs lost again on election day, the only bond question (out of 10) to go down to defeat in 1990.

Want more? In 1994, hysteria erupted on the eastside over fears thousands of public housing residents would flood Dundalk, Essex and Middle River under an experimental federal housing program called Moving to Opportunity.

Foes claimed 18,000 poor blacks were coming when, in fact, no more than 40 per year would have been scattered throughout the county under the voucher program.

Fierce voter opposition convinced politicians such as County Executive Roger Hayden and Congresswoman Helen D. Bentley to run for the hills.

That included liberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who killed the federal MTO funds earmarked for Baltimore. It was not her finest moment.

Housing Exclusion Persists

The new century didn’t change attitudes in Baltimore County.

In 2000, 70 percent of county voters voiced strong outrage over County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger’s carefully worked-out renewal plans for Dundalk, Essex, Middle River and Randallstown.

Clearly, housing issues remain Baltimore County’s bugaboo.

So it is not surprising Councilwoman Cathy Bevins hid behind “councilmanic courtesy” to bury the latest affordable housing plan from a nonprofit group. Nor is it shocking the other council members, including Oliver, let her get away with it.

No one had the courage to say, “This is wrong. We’ve got to address our county’s lack of housing for low and lower-middle income people.”

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz tried to play diplomat, noting his “regret” at “the tenor” of the council’s action. It “sent the wrong message,” he said.

His efforts to bring sensible and needed affordable housing to the county won’t be easy.

A New Baltimore County

Back in Ted Agnew’s days as county executive, African Americans made up roughly 3 percent of  the subdivision’s population.

Today, blacks constitute 27 percent of county residents and many of them need better housing options.

The times, they are a-changin’,

At some point Baltimore Countians, however grudgingly, will have to recognize this reality.

Rascover doesn’t mention that the County has demolished 4,000 rental unitsmost either subsidized or occupied by African American or disabled families with vouchersover the period 1996-2008 without replacing a single unit.

Contact Baltimore County Council and tell them its finally time to start supporting affordable housing.

The Persistence of Urban Poverty

A recent piece by Barbara Samuels, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s fair housing program, discusses how the growth of suburban poverty across the nation shouldn’t be misconstrued as a peachy tail for the the inner city, especially here in Baltimore.

The piece, “Poverty still hits the city hardest,” was published by the Baltimore Sun on October 15th and is copied below:

“Just before the government shut down, the Census Bureau released updated income and poverty data that highlight the impact of the Great Recession and nascent recovery. Not surprisingly, poverty has increased across the board, in both cities and suburbs, as a result of the recession. But one finding has been held out as a surprise: Brookings Institution researcher Elizabeth Kneebone’s point that poverty is increasing faster in the nation’s suburbs than in its cities.

While true, her finding must be read in context, especially here in Baltimore, where our suburbs have fared much better than the national trend and our city has been hit harder than other cities.

Even in the midst of the Great Recession, Ms. Kneebone’s data shows that the poverty rate in the Baltimore suburbs increased by only 1.5 percentage points, from 5.9 percent to 7.4 percent. That is only half of the national poverty rate of 15 percent. In fact, relative to other regions nationwide, the Baltimore region actually improved from the 9th lowest suburban poverty rate in 2007 to the 4th lowest suburban poverty rate in 2012.

Meanwhile, the city’s picture is less rosy. Unlike the region’s suburbs, Baltimore City actually started off worse than most other cities in the country — and then declined even further in relation to them. In the process, the city lost the gains made in the boom years before the recession.

Pre-crash, the city poverty rate was 20 percent — as good as it had been in recent memory, but still much worse than the Baltimore suburbs in national rankings, where it stood at 56th most impoverished among 97 cities. By 2012, that ranking had dropped even lower, to 63rd, thanks to an increase in the number of poor in the city. Between 2007 and 2012, 40 percent of the region’s increase in people with incomes below the poverty level was in Baltimore City — even though the city makes up only 23 percent of the region’s population. As a result, the city’s poverty rate shot up from 20 percent to 24.8 percent.

So what do all these numbers tell us about our metro region and poverty in the city and suburbs?

Certainly, there are some struggling suburban communities, but overall, the suburbs appear to have been able to weather and absorb the increase in the absolute numbers of poor that they experienced during the crash while the already fragile city has been hit hard. Unlike the suburbs, with no population growth and a smaller base of prosperous citizens, the fragile gains made by the city before 2007 could not weather the crash. If you have not visited the distressed neighborhoods of Baltimore City lately, the level of abandonment and destitution you will see is heartbreaking.

Whatever the trends in the “suburbanization of poverty” that may have occurred in other metro areas, the unconscionable disparities in poverty and suffering between Baltimore City and its suburbs appear to stubbornly persist. And because of patterns of residential segregation in the region, the geographic divide is also a racial divide. Prosperity in our region — and in our state, which remains the wealthiest in the nation — is not shared.

This inequality has been a trademark of the region for decades now, so long that we accept it as a natural part of the landscape. There are things we can do to narrow the gap, but first there must be a will to do so.

The good news is that for the first time in a long time, the disparities are being openly acknowledged by the region’s political and civic leaders. Local governments and state agencies have joined with civic organizations to win a federal grant to develop regional plans for workforce training and fair housing that will begin to address the region’s geographical and racial disparities.

The question we should ask ourselves is, how can we remake our post-industrial region as a sustainable, economically-resilient, global city of the 21st Century while these extremes of prosperity and deprivation persist in our midst?”

New Fair Housing Rule Creates Great Fanfare and Hostile Critics

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a much anticipated new rule intended to bolster the Fair Housing Act of 1968, making it more effective than ever before. One of the most important pieces of the act was the demand that persons not only refrain from active discrimination, but, also, that they are proactive in working to “affirmatively further fair housing.” Historically, HUD has fallen short of this latter obligation, continuing to give millions of dollars in grant funds to neighborhoods participating in systematic segregation. Current levels of segregation are often viewed as unfortunate and unintentional. Fair housing advocates, though, have long rejected this logic making HUD’s new rule a real victory. The rule serves as recognition from the federal government that policy is to blame for much of our nation’s segregation problem and that policy, now, can be held responsible for its reversal.

An article published by Atlantic Cities on July 26th documents some of the misguided reactions to HUD’s proposed rule (which is open for public comment until September 17, 2013). While many of the reactions the article highlights are hurtful, most imply a simple misunderstanding. The new rule “does nothing to change the core intent of the Fair Housing Act.”[1] Rather, the purpose of the new rule is to (1) define just exactly what it means to affirmatively further fair housing, (2) ensure that those receiving funds from HUD are accurately documenting their efforts to do so, and (3) provide “data for every neighborhood in the nation, detailing what access African American families, and other members of protected classes, have to…community assets.”[2]

Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, heralded this third component as “a big deal.”[3]  Previously, grantees were responsible themselves for accruing data on impediments to affirmatively furthering fair housing. Now, HUD is taking over data accumulation and allowing their grantees to devote more resources to amending the problems that data makes visible. Additionally, if HUD amasses its own data, the department will no longer have to rely on grantees to honestly supply information on neighborhood inequities. HUD is filling the void that has existed for much too long in reporting. Now all parties have undeniable access to accurate neighborhood statistics.

However, the most damaging misconstructions the Atlantic Cities article brings attention to are not about the rule specifically, but about fair housing in general. BRHC has written several articles on the harmful effects of segregation. “Equal access to housing also means equal access to everything that housing entails: good jobs, safe communities, quality education, healthy neighborhoods, [and] nearby transit.”[4]  But it is important to note that though most arguments examine the effects on those living in low opportunity neighborhoods; in fact, those living in prosperous neighborhoods are also negatively impacted by segregation. Another article published by Atlantic Cities titled “Why Segregation is Bad for Everyone” details a study conducted by Harrison Campbell, Huiping Li and, Steven Fernandez of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Their research supports the theory that neighborhoods depend on all types of skills and, therein, neighborhoods must support all types of incomes. All different kinds of people are responsible for the successful functioning of a community and should be respected as such.

Fair housing champions do not advocate “diversity for diversity’s sake.”[5] Fair housing champions advocate that all persons regardless of disability, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, or familial status are of equal value and must be given equal access to high opportunity neighborhoods as this is not only right, but beneficial to society as a whole.


How the Trayvon Martin Verdict Relates to Housing Segregation

An opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle this July connected the Trayvon Martin verdict to housing segregation. Jeannine Bell, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Racial Violence and the Persistence of Segregation in American Housing” (New York University Press, 2013), argues that racial segregation in American housing is to blame for the country’s continued racial polarization and resulting debilitating discrimination.

The BRHC has recently published other articles about the detrimental effects of segregation on Marylandand Baltimoreresidents. Most recent was an article about the negative effects of school segregation. The piece was based on a study released in April that ranked Maryland the state with the 6th highest level of school segregation. The article highlighted disparities related to school segregation like “higher dropout rates, fewer experienced teachers, and far less resources [for schools with a majority of students in poverty]… [as opposed to] schools with majority middle- and upper-class students.”[1] The second article was written in reaction to a study that found life expectancy inBaltimore can vary as much as 30 years depending on census tract. The areas with the lowest life expectancy were typically areas with a high population of minority and/or low-income residents.

Bell, with her article, has added a new perspective to this discussion by asserting that segregation is also a catalyst for higher levels of violent crime. She argues that separating people by race or ethnicity creates an “othering” effect where persons of different races are unable to see the commonalities between them due to long-term racial separation. As this effect deepens people develop irrational fears because they have little personal interaction with people outside their race and, tragically, these fears often play out as violent crimes. She uses George Zimmerman as an example of someone experiencing irrational fear about someone of another race (importantly – an African American boy) and reacting with violence. In the end a more diverse neighborhood is actually a safer neighborhood.

A study conducted by Ali Vandervald, a postdoctoral fellow at theUniversity ofChicago, supportsBell’s argument. Vandervald found a strong correlation between high levels of violent crimes and high level of racial segregation.Baltimore is one of the examples that Vandevald uses to demonstrate this correlation.

Bellconcludes that the more interaction between people of diverse backgrounds the more harmony and understanding that can be fostered. The above are all strong arguments for the desegregation ofBaltimorecity and the surrounding region. Though the nation has been saddened by the Trayvon Martin story, his loss has offered Americans an opportunity to open up the much-avoided conversation about inequality in our country.