Housing Questionnaire Candidate Response: Brooke Lierman

Brooke Lierman (D, incumbent) is running for State Delegate, District 46.

Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant homes. Do you have additional ideas for cleaning up the blight that isn’t a rehash or continuation of previous plans? And how do you propose to pay for your plan?

Baltimore City has employed a number of different innovative strategies, some more successful than others, in trying to deal with vacant homes, including the state initiated Project CORE. One other method to consider would be for Baltimore City to create a land bank similar to those created in Detroit and Philadelphia. A land bank could be more proactive in taking control of vacant properties. The City already shoulders the costs of vacants in terms of cleaning, boarding, negative health impacts, and decreased surrounding property values, so they should consider owning the properties as well, through a Land Bank. The City could seize control of these vacants through tax sale, receivership, and other means, bundle the vacants where appropriate, and dispose of the properties to address identified communities needs including, parks, commercial development and affordable housing. A land bank will not be as dependent on the interests of private developers and can more readily seek to create those markets by offering access to all vacant housing within a given neighborhood for more rapid redevelopment. Land banks can and should obtain funding from a variety of sources including revenue from property sales, state allocations, and an additional surcharge on non-owner-occupied delinquent property tax payments.

The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,000 and up, and those who earn $25,000 and below. Middle-income families, who earn approximately $41,000, are 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 City and State should fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and ensure that a significant part of those funds are dedicated to developing rental housing is affordable to families to families at or below 50% of AMI ($45,000 for a family of 4). These investments should prioritize community-driven, permanently affordable housing, i.e., development through a community land trust, community development corporation, or other non-profit that intends to keep the housing permanently affordable as part of a neighborhood-based plan. This is the best use of City funds so that the properties do not revert to market rate whenever typical subsidies expire. By funding these kinds of organizations to take control of vacants and redeveloping permanently affordable housing, the City will be both eliminating sources of blight in the community and redeveloping neighborhoods in a manner that does not raise surrounding rents. I also support a stronger approach to requiring inclusionary housing units if a developer is receiving any type of public support. Many of these units would likely be developed at higher levels of AMI (80%, etc.) and thus would offer additional more affordable options for middle income families.

I also support the “Kushner Act” to bar arrests for anyone behind in rent less than $5,000, and work at a firm that is currently suing Jared Kushner’s company for its illegal behavior. Slumlords should not be able to operate anywhere in our state unchecked.

How do you plan to address lead paint poisoning in our city, a problem that has a disparate impact on low-income Black families?

First, the City and State must do a better job enforcing the current lead enforcement laws. A recent study of Rent Court by the Public Justice Center revealed that 79% of surveyed landlords did not provide valid MDE registration and certificate information. Second, there are additional bills we can pass to deal with thes issues. The General Assembly should pass HB 852 this year that would clarify that if a Landlord is not in compliance with MDE requirements, they cannot file a complaint for failure to pay rent. We should also pass HB 304 that would lower the elevated blood lead level from 10 mgl to 5 mgl. There is no safe amount of lead, and we must more readily intervene in any situation where a child has any trace of an elevated blood lead level. Finally, we need the Governor and MDE to fund and pursue enforcement. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have consistently pushed MDE to hire more inspectors, required reporting on enforcement, and have restricted funding in MDE’s budget to try to ensure that it does indeed spend money on enforcement.

Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to affordable and safe housing?

I believe that every individual and family should have access to affordable and habitable housing in safe neighborhoods that have good schools, parks and recreation opportunities, and high-quality transit. We should invest in development that redevelops Baltimore’s neighborhoods without displacing current residents. Creating neighborhoods where people of all races and incomes can live, participate, and benefit from development has to be our goal, and we need to let that goal guide our funding.

We must use our limited state capital dollars to advance the ball on building all levels of affordable housing using Rental Housing Works money and through a DHCD housing plan/tax credit model that prioritizes building affordable housing in communities of opportunity and abides by fair housing laws. We must also enforce existing laws, including those designed to preserve affordable housing. 35% of affordable units in Maryland are expiring by 2020. DHCD must work with stakeholders to come up with a plan to ensure that developers do not convert those units to market rate after their loan period expires (HB 1240 addresses this issue directly).

As a member of the Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, throughout my first term I have consistently fought for greater resources at the state level to advance my vision of access to affordable and high-quality housing for all through budget language, meetings with developers and advocates, and legislation, and I will continue to do so if I am re-elected.