Housing Questionnaire Candidate Response: Nilesh Kalyanaraman

Nilesh Kalyanaraman (D) is running for State Delegate in Maryland District 43.

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?

The core problem is that Baltimore’s population has been declining for decades which has led to the problem with vacants. Our planning efforts should focus on rightsizing our city and investing in job creation so that people, in combination with the below programs, have the opportunity to afford housing in the city.

Estimates of the number of vacants in Baltimore City range from 16,000 to 48,000. Current programs like Vacants to Value and Maryland state’s investment of $75M for blight elimination are steps in the right direction.

Encouraging and funding alternative uses of vacant land, especially for urban agriculture or woodlands would decrease blight, improve health, and help with revitalizing communities.

The proposed Dollar House program coupled with low cost renovation financing would be an incentive for people to invest in property and renovate it. While the estimated costs are high, roughly $75,000 to $100,000 to renovate each home, this investment could be financed at the state level through private loans for renovating houses backed by state guarantees. The default rate in the original program was extremely low and so the cost for this state guarantee would be negligible.

Community land trusts are gaining traction and can help communities but will likely have a low impact overall unless funds are allocated to invest in CLTs.

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?

We can help middle income families through expanding the Renters Tax Credit, expanding eviction prevention programs, establishing rent control in areas with rapidly increasing rental rates and reforming rent court.

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

Lead poisoning is a preventable and addressable problem. While we’ve made strides, we need to do more to reduce lead exposure in children, particularly as it impacts low income and black families. As no level of lead is safe, the more we can do to detect low levels and mitigate them, the healthier our families will be. I propose that we

  • Use the CDC lead reference level in blood of 5 micrograms instead of 10 micrograms so that we can identify lower dose exposure to lead.
  • Improve code enforcement to ensure that children with elevated lead levels have their homes tested.
  • Amend the law to focus on homeowners in addition to rentals to ensure that all properties are being inspected.
  • Fund infrastructure improvement in areas with high concentrations of lead in the drinking water
  • Implement a state Medicaid funded project to pay for lead abatement in houses/complexes with increased rates of children with high lead levels

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

In addition we need to address homelessness in Baltimore through expansion of permanent supportive housing programs that provide funding for services through Medicaid or hospital community benefits in combination with housing subsidies.