Faraj Leach was the first candidate from District 8 to respond to the housing questionnaire. His responses are below, with no edits.
1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. How do you intend to clean up blight in your district that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?
In 1970 Baltimore’s population was an estimated 906,000, Anne Arundel County’s population was an estimated 300,000, Baltimore County’s population was an estimated 623,000, and Maryland’s population was an estimated 4.6 million. As of 2013 Baltimore’s population was an estimated 622,000, Anne Arundel County’s population was an estimated 555,000, Baltimore County’s population was an estimated 822,000, and Maryland’s population was an estimated 5.9 million.
It is immediately evident that Baltimore’s existing infrastructure exceeds its current population. The residential space left idle during the decline in population does not meet the expectations of most inhabitants. Today, we have far more houses than we need and will not be able to fill most of these houses in their current condition. To that end, it is necessary for a Municipal master plan that aligns our infrastructure to the current population while considering future growth and new construction initiatives.
In order for the 8th District to sustain its position on blight and excel over the remaining districts, I will study the factors that led to Baltimore’s population decreasing 31%, as Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, and Maryland populations increased over the aforementioned forty-two year period. Through this research, it will be important to return prepared to introduce the dining, entertainment, recreation, and education experience desired by targeted Baltimore families.
The existing site of the former Gundry Glass hospital in the 8th District, is an ideal starting point for expansion of recreation or track and field. The most promising of many funding options, is Governor Hogan’s recent commitment of $700 million to rebuild Baltimore.
2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,000 and up, and those who earn $25,000 and below. The middle class in Baltimore is stagnating, and struggling to afford rental housing. How do you propose to keep median-income renters from leaving the city without pushing them into homeownership they may not want or be able to afford?
The 8th district will be the model for surrounding districts, possessing unique culture and the mentality of a village. By building a bank of private and public developers, I can introduce attractive, affordable, and safe median-income rental housing.
I will support the inclusionary Housing efforts to encourage the development of affordable units and probe for insight from the current administration on lessons learned from the existing inclusionary Housing Law. I will garner support from the community and peer councilmembers for developers that build recreation, shopping, dining, entertainment, and business districts that attract today’s middle class to the 8th District.
In partnership with the Maryland Stadium Authority, I will inventory blighted properties in the 8th District and propose that the largest cluster of properties be used to expand green space and build wetlands paid in part by funds available today through Maryland’s $700 million plan to revitalize blighted neighborhoods in Baltimore City.
3. Our Housing Authority has a decades-long reputation for corruption and incompetence at its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?
The Baltimore City Charter prescribes that The Housing Department and Housing Authority leadership be appointed by the Mayor and can only be fired by the Mayor. While Councilmembers may confirm or deny an executive nomination brought by the Mayor, the City Council has limited authority.
If elected to the 8th District City Council seat, I will introduce a charter amendment to create a uniformed performance based measure for appointment and removal of any city department director.
Ideally, under the new system, directors would be appointed by the City Council President, subject to consent of the Mayor and 1/3 one-third consent of the City Council. This is the best way for the council to intelligently impact authority and responsibly eliminate prejudices in appointment, removal, and performance management processes.
4. It’s been said that Baltimore’s tax sale process is burdensome to seniors and low-income residents, forcing many out of their homes. How do you plan to make this process easier for those who are struggling to pay for their water bills and property taxes, and how would you better structure the city’s tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?
I am committed to proposing water affordability legislation that would eliminate the burden on all residents including seniors and low-income residents. Vacant or dilapidated properties suppress property values, threaten public safety, chase away investment and hurt quality of life.
5. If you plan to introduce a reduction in property taxes, please indicate that, but also indicate how you plan to make up for the lost revenue.
I am committed to reductions in property taxes that are financially and fiscally responsible. I am confident that taking the steps towards replacing Baltimore’s costly and antiquated municipal phone system, can become the first of funds used to offset property tax reductions under my plan.
The power struggle that led to a dispute between Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, led to a lawsuit filed by the Comptroller against the Mayor, and led to an ethics investigation launched by the Mayor into the Comptroller were all complete waste of taxpayer money.
6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?
The law prescribes that the Executive Branch (Mayor) of government shall enforce the laws written by the Legislative Branch (City Council) of government. This places the responsibility of enforcement on the Mayor however; as a City Council Member I will inspect what I expect.
I am not confident that the current Administration understands the purpose of the inclusionary housing law introduced in 2007. I am even less confident that the inclusionary law perpetuates the intended idea after upwards of two dozen amendments since its origin.
When the Legislative Branch introduces a law, we have “got to get it right” the first time. Not many citizens can make upwards of two dozen revisions and still have a job – but some of your current Councilman did.
To this end, if elected to City Council in 2016, I will probe for feedback from my peers on how to amend the current inclusionary law a final time so that it works for the people of Baltimore and doesn’t counteract the interest of Developers.
7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 8?
We will create safe and healthy neighborhoods. I have spoken with Baltimore residents at various Mayoral forums. Residents in neighboring districts stand firm in their belief that Baltimore should continue initiatives to grow by 10,000 families and that initiatives should not limit placement of families in the Canton, Fells Point, and Hampden communities.
I will introduce 21st Century building and zoning legislation, that supports Baltimore Housing’s mission of ensuring that all citizens of Baltimore have access to adequate and affordable housing opportunities in safe, livable and decent neighborhoods.
I will introduce legislation that uses downstream savings from proposed Baltimore City technology upgrades to convert existing communities into gated neighborhoods with surveillance and keyless-entry, to improve security, safety, and privacy. In residential neighborhoods, privacy means exclusivity and therefore increased property values.