District 12 Candidate Ian Schlakman on Housing

Ian Schlakman was the only candidate from District 12 to respond to the questionnaire. His answers are below, with no edits. The following candidates did not respond: Kelly Cross, Gary Crum, Ertha Harris, Jason Pyeron, Rashad Staton, Gordon Stock, and Frank Richardson.

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?

Baltimore’s housing and building stock is used by developers and owners – many of them absentee – as a tool for their own personal profit. We need to redefine Baltimore’s housing and building stock as a public resource that all residents can take advantage of for housing, for headquartering new small businesses, and for expanding our public spaces.

Hundreds of millions of dollars – over $500 million to one development in Port Covington most recently – are being gifted to developers to build massive projects that only benefit a small slice of Baltimore. Ending these giveaways will shift more than enough money to the development of our housing and building stock for public needs.

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?

Like Councilmember Kshama Sawant in Seattle, I advocate a program for affordable housing for all. Rent control will stop out-of-control rent increases that are locking the poor and middle class out of stable housing. A Tenant’s Bill of Rights will stop abusive practices by owners and landlords. I advocate creating a housing “public option” by building or renovating thousands of high-quality, city-owned housing units rented at below-market rates. Security deposits and other fees should be capped at no more than one month’s rent.

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?

We must take a step beyond firing Paul Graziano and recycling leadership at the Housing Authority. The Authority’s reputation for corruption and incompetence is an inevitable result of the federal and city initiative to privatize public housing. Graziano’s plans to privatize 40% of the city’s public housing take oversight out of the hands of public agencies – which are run and held accountable by public officials, who can be replaced by voters – and puts it into the hands of private managers, who are only held accountable by stockholders.

In addition to creating a true “public option” for housing, we need to resist and reject efforts to privatize existing public housing both on the local and federal level.

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?

Water should be managed and provided to all Baltimore residents by a municipal water board, not private companies like Veolia. Water needs to be recognized as a human right that all residents can access, regardless of their ability to pay.

Rather than being sold at auction to private companies and developers, any vacant or abandoned Baltimore property with unpaid property taxes will be taken by the City to be redeveloped as part of the housing “public option”. During the redevelopment process, all efforts will be made to settle unpaid taxes and return the homes to owners or occupants. No one will be forced to leave a home until all efforts to settle tax bills have been exhausted.

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 plan to reduce property taxes, and I will introduce a program of new taxes on millionaires and billion-dollar corporations. They have profited off of the residents of Baltimore for decades and need to finally pay their fair share to build a healthy, livable city for the 99%.

We as a city spend far too many resources to make sure large development projects get the tax breaks and land giveaways they need to be profitable. We need to spend more time, energy, and city resources in getting tax breaks to ordinary homeowners and small businesses.

6. How do you propose enforcing Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law?

I advocate creating a housing “public option” by building or renovating thousands of high-quality, city-owned housing units rented at below-market rates. This will require building low-to-moderate housing in every neighborhood in every part of the city. All vacant or abandoned properties will be returned to the City for redevelopment as part of the “public option”. This program will create more than enough low-to-moderate income housing to fulfill inclusionary housing laws.

However, I am against the idea of developers simply paying into a fund to skirt this law. I think the city needs to gain control of the situation. I plan on doing this by working with the mayor who should be enforcing this law. And if we can’t get the mayor to move on this problem then I will sponsor the creation of a new law that has alternate or automatic enforcement mechanisms built in.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 12?

The City should treat its housing stock as a precious resource. Vacant houses should be demolished only as a last resort when rehabilitation isn’t an option. Demolishing homes to create new open space for sale to developers is another unnecessary handout to corporate developers.

I want to take a minute to address our city’s homeless population in relation to housing. Why don’t we house every homeless family in Baltimore? We obviously have a surplus of housing. It’s the right thing too, of course. The answer is simple: there’s no money to be made in housing them.

That’s why I will be the kind of leader that always does what’s right, not just what’s profitable. We need the political will to take care of all of our residents in Baltimore, not just the ones who are rich.

Thousands of Baltimoreans experience homelessness on a daily basis. Providing housing can give many of these city residents the chance they need to get off the streets. Institute a program to train city residents in renovating city-owned vacant properties and use them to provide housing for people in need of a place to live. Many cities, including large ones like Salt Lake City, have found success with this model.

Once enough housing has been found to house everyone in need, the Vacants to Value program should be overhauled and then expanded to allow everyone who wants to own and invest in a home to do so. Access to quality housing should be considered a human right and shared city resource, and it should be as inexpensive as possible for everyone to take advantage of.

Voters can learn more about my plans at www.ian12.com.