Thinking About 2015

Photo of Maryland State House, Annapolis

State House, Annapolis, MD

It’s never too early to start thinking about legislative priorities for 2015.  We have a few issues that we’ll be working on, just in time for the start of Maryland’s legislative session in January, and we want to hear your priorities, too:

  • LLC transparency
  • Transfer of real estate
  • Historic preservation
  • Affordable housing, based on local economics
  • Better vetting and enforcement for purchasers of City-owned property

Why these are important

LLC transparency is something we’ve pushed for in the past two legislative sessions, yet the bill introduced by Delegate Steve Lafferty has yet to pass.  Some have suggested the bill is anti-business, which is entirely untrue.

Giving residents a way to contact businesses, including property owners, that do not operate a brick-and-mortar storefront or office is actually a sound business practice.  It opens the door for communication between business/property owners and the public, and could potentially allow for far less government involvement, as issues could be resolved faster and easier, without fines or court proceedings. This bill could save businesses a lot of money in the long run.

Property transfers, particularly in Baltimore City, have not been closely monitored. In many instances, properties are “flipped” between buyers who do not record their deeds, and therefore do not pay the transfer fees to the state or to the City, and it allows negligent property owners to hide behind the previous owner’s information. This results in more work on the part of Baltimore Housing’s Code Enforcement and Legal divisions, and more frustration on the part of residents who experience issues with these properties and cannot find accurate ownership information.

Historic preservation, particularly in a city like Baltimore that seems to be experiencing an identity crisis — especially over the past decade or so — is important to creating a sustainable city. Knocking down our historic structures, or leaving them to rot, is not a development strategy.  We must celebrate and build on Baltimore’s history, in order to move forward in a sustainable way. We would like to see more money allocated to neighborhood historic preservation, and less allocated to development projects that do not reflect the needs of current residents — particularly in our more marginalized neighborhoods.

Affordable rental housing is a top priority for 2015.  Baltimore has a median income of $40,000, yet “affordable” housing rental rates are based on a percentage of the Metropolitan Statistical Area median income, set by HUD.  This number does not take into account the local economic climate of each municipality, and therefore sets a “fair market” rent that is out of reach of most residents, especially those who do not qualify for subsidized housing. We must shore up our middle class in order to create a broader tax base. Otherwise, we can expect more attempts to cut services like the fire department, rec centers, parks, and trash collection.

Monitoring the vetting of who is purchasing city-owned property has become a growing concern over the past two years. The City created its Vacants to Value program in 2010, with much fanfare.  However, research into who is purchasing the city-owned vacants paints a not-so-rosy picture. The largest “company” purchaser…is the city’s Housing Authority.  The largest individual purchaser is a disbarred attorney who testified in Federal Court that he and a group of other attorneys participated in a municipal auction bid-rigging scheme.  Taxpayers cannot continue footing the bill for court proceedings and sham municipal auctions — we need to clear the way for honest businesses and honest individuals who want to call our city home.

What are your 2015 priorities?  Because this is a resident-driven project, send your thoughts — we want to make sure as many voices are included as possible.

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