Housing Questionnaire Candidate Response: Robbyn Lewis

Robbyn Lewis (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?

I support efforts to build community and strengthen connections between people thru resident-driven cleaning and greening efforts. I’ve conceived and led such efforts during my 18 years in the Patterson Park Neighborhood. There are community leaders in every single neighborhood in the 46th, of all ages, races and points of view. Funding to support these efforts typically comes from local nonprofits and foundations, however, larger scale efforts can be funded by sources like BRNI. I will continue to support funding that enables communities to take leadership, and also to engage in equitable partnerships with other organizations, in order to improve the health and livability their environments.

We should also take advantage of opportunities for coordination between the Maryland Stadium Authority, who is responsible for Project CORE. While this is not a new program, it has not been fully utilized. As of October 2017, only $5 million of the $75 million pledged had been utilized. There is an opportunity to use these funds for community-led re-development, as well as programs like Good Neighbor Next Door, Vacants to Value, and the $1 housing programs at the state level. I would also encourage Baltimore City to forgive tax liens on vacant properties which discourage rehabilitation because of an inordinate up front cost.

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?

There are a number of opportunities to alleviate the burden for middle-income families in Baltimore City. First and foremost, we must encourage responsible and mixed-use development which incorporate minimum, and affordable, thresholds for mixed-income units. These mixed-development residence sites must be intentionally located in areas with access to public transit routes, schools, grocery stores and health facilities. Families should have easy access to essential services to meet basic needs.

Community land trusts are another effective means of controlling housing costs and ensuring that development leads to equitable access to housing and is reflective of the actual needs in a community. By owning land for development, the nonprofit community land trusts put individuals and communities first, supporting long-term housing stability and building community wealth. In 46th district, there are two land trusts, in the North East (North East Housing Initiative) and in Curtis Bay (Curtis Bay Community Land Trust). I have and will continue to support these projects.

I also support the “Kushner Act” in front of the Maryland General Assembly. This Act bars arrests for anyone who is behind in their rent payments when the amount is less than $5,000. Slumlords should not be able to operate inside of Baltimore City unchecked. We’ve seen how this disproportionately impacts lower and middle-income families and individuals. There are also opportunities for extending tax incentives at the state level to middle-income families who fall into the affordability gap to alleviate their rent burden.

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

I sponsored HB304, a measure to prevent lead poisoning and reduce lead risk in housing. This bill calls for a lower threshold on the lead blood level that initiates case management, notification, and lead risk reduction requirements. This means earlier intervention, and emphasizes treatment through prevention. As a public health professional, it’s important that we ensure existing lead paint regulations are enforced consistently, in all homes and during all renovations. This includes enforcing regulations in homes and buildings inhabited by/rented by low-income Black families, who are disproportionately affected by lead paint poisoning.

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

I sponsor/support SB189/HB464, which provides a $2,500 tax credit to low-income City employees. The current legislation covering first responders is important, but leaves out thousands of City employees who dedicate their careers to Baltimore City. They should receive the same tax benefits and ability to accumulate wealth through homeownership as any other City employee.