District 14 City Council Candidate Mary Pat Clarke on Housing

Mary Pat Clarke, the incumbent Councilwoman for District 14, was the first to respond to our questionnaire. Her answers appear below, with no edits:

1. Baltimore City has 30,000+ vacant houses. 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 City requires a plan of action to eliminate blight effectively and for keeps. Best planning partners are the city’s urban renewal area leaders and residents. Traditionally the city’s most blighted and impoverished areas, urban renewal neighborhoods were once funded annually as priority recipients of federal block grant assistance and development. They’re used to planning. Some areas may have gentrified and incomed-out. Other adjacent areas may have suffered setbacks which meet the criteria for inclusion. But together, these areas are the geographic core of blighted conditions from which coordinated plans can converge to add-up to real progress working in and then out from that core.

Beginning with these neighborhoods, the city should radically realign its leveraging of tax increments to attract private investment partnerships for affordable rental and homeownership housing; and, for employment centers committed to training and hiring city workers.

As for how to pay, Baltimore City has the means to undertake this effort, with planning staff support for residents and tax incentives to attract private development partnerships. Witness the local investment of capital and tax increments to build condos along the shoreline of the Inner Harbor and beyond. Those same means are available once our new city leadership breaks with tradition and mobilizes such public development incentives and tax increments to revitalize where so many of our most blighted residents live and need work.

In the 14th District, the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello (CHM) neighborhood is one of the urban renewal areas which would greatly benefit from the focus such a coalition of urban renewal areas would generate. We would love to be at the core of such a major and planful assault on blight citywide, from the urban renewal areas out. It would also increase CHM’s status in adequate funding for a long-lingering development project (Tivoly Triangle) which is clearing 3 blighted city blocks to create a development site for affordable new housing. Akin to the middle-income families in question 2, CHM is caught in the no-mans-land between at-risk and still viable. Looking passable but struggling to hold back the deluge.

2. The two fastest-growing income groups in Baltimore are those who earn $75,00 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?

Decisively dedicate the City’s investment and tax incentive tools to the development of affordable rental and homeownership housing in mixed low-to-moderate income planned developments within our city neighborhoods. Prioritize the rehab or replacement of those clusters of rental housing where lead poisoning of children is and has traditionally been most prevalent.

Such dedication of public resources means a diversion of public incentives away from expensive developments in prime locations which, however significant, we can no longer afford if we are to heal and grow as a city — and retain our middle-income residents and families.

For their benefit as well, retain and expand sliding scale, year-round School Age Child Care Centers (SACCC) now operating from 6am – 6pm and all summer long at Waverly and Northwood schools. Promote SDAT property tax credits, especially the under-utilized and income-based Homeowners Property Tax Credit.

3. Our Housing Authority has a decades long reputation for corruption and incompetence in its top leadership tier. How do you plan to address this?

We have begun already, but I intend to continue working with my City Council colleagues to determine the sources of corruption and incompetency from top to bottom of the agency and to root out all personnel who fail to live up to the honesty, professionalism, respectfulness, and competence our residents deserve and require. I have and will always defend a resident’s right to speak up against disrespect, abuse, and injustice.

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 tax sale process to ensure homes aren’t purchased and subsequently neglected?

Elderly and low-income homeowners often have problems understanding what the tax sale notices means and what to do about them. As a result, many just set the notice aside and hope for the best — until it’s almost too late. Not usually on line or owning a car, many rely on phone calls to try to understand, but they often cannot get through or make sense of what they are told. Housing’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Ken Strong has been working diligently to develop help for tax sale victims. Just last week, he and his collegue Ken Gelula helped a constituent connect with Neighborhood Housing Services and its loan program. I plan to keep working with “the Ken’s” as they develop better access, referrals, and strategies to assist. For information: [email protected]

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 have no plan to initiate a further reduction in property taxes beyond honoring the current mayor’s owner-occupant tax reduction commitment. Crucial as property tax relief is to Baltimore’s future, we have recovery work ahead which requires all funds on deck for the foreseeable future. Public safety, public education, living wage jobs, job training and transportation must take precedence until positive effects provide the opportunity for significant progress in achieving tax equity with our surrounding subdivisions.

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

I propose that developers of market-rate housing subject to the inclusionary housing law be required to incorporate the cost of integrating the affordable housing units required into their own corporate development costs and design. Many such projects are currently waived from compliance for lack of sufficient city funds to subsidize the inclusion required by law. These units should be part of the developer’s original financial plan.

Off-site alternatives will sometimes make sense when integrating affordable units leads to the prospect of overly expensive and socially isolated units amidst a super-luxury market development. But inclusionary housing is far more than just a roof over a family’s head. It’s about a positive and supportive neighborhood in which to raise families. With those principles in mind, any off-site alternatives to on-site inclusion should themselves be comprised of mixed income units and included in the developer’s financial plan and proposal from the start.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 14?

My approach is to help residents facing tax sales, evictions, landlord problems. Years ago, I sponsored the Tenants Right of First Refusal law to provide long-term tenants the chance to bid first to buy the single-family house they are renting — and to be protected from losing out to lower bids. More recently, I sponsored legislation that prohibits discrimination in renting or buying a dwelling unit based on the source of income of the applicant, this in response to voucher rejection in some quarters. I am increasingly concerned about application fees required when applying to rent a house or apartment. These fees are a hardship for voucher and other low-income applicants, the expense limits “comparison shopping,” and the fees have no apparent rationale. I am researching to see what legislative options may be available to curb such expenses.

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