People love data. Numbers. They paint a different, more succinct picture than words sometimes, and they can be turned into maps, infographics, and other visuals that have a bigger, faster impact. However, numbers can be manipulated in a way that allows governments and corporations to create policies that keep poor people away from things that should benefit them the most, like affordable housing developments.
Take Port Covington, for example. The hotly contested development proposed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank will be exempt from Baltimore’s inclusionary housing law, yet he has agreed to make 10% of housing in his new development “affordable”. Let’s take a look at the numbers being used to create that housing.
Baltimore City’s median income is $41,000. The Baltimore/Towson Metropolitan Statistical Area has a median income of $86,700, according to HUD. The affordable units in Port Covington will be available to those who earn 80% of the area median income, not the city’s median income. So a single person earning $46,000 a year would be eligible, and a family of four earning $65,700 a year would also be eligible.
The majority of Baltimore City residents, 58% of them, do not earn $50,000 a year. The number of people earning less than $25,000 a year is growing. Yet to calculate what will be deemed “affordable”, we’re using a number that will keep many who need affordable housing out.
Had the “affordable” determination been made using the City’s median and not the MSA’s median, it would have produced a more realistic scenario — a single person earning $32,800 would be able to rent one of the “affordable” units in Port Covington.
In order to make Baltimore’s housing truly affordable for those who need it, we must stop using numbers that aren’t reflective of our city’s population. We need to stop using incomes from the MSA, and use the income levels of our residents to determine affordability. We also need to stop allowing nonprofit groups and corporations to engage in what effectively becomes another way to redline African Americans from new developments in predominantly white communities.