District 3 Candidate Ryan Dorsey on Housing

Of all the candidates running for City Council in District 3, Ryan Dorsey is the only one to respond to the housing questionnaire, therefore there will not be a separate candidate link page. The following candidates did not respond: Beatrice Brown, Marques Dent, Jermaine Jones, Alicia Joynes, Steven Mitchell, George VanHook Sr., Andreas Spilliadis.

Ryan Dorsey’s responses appear below, with no edits:

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?

Blight is the natural companion of divestment, both public and private, and goes hand in hand with a lack of community resources. The fewer healthy food, recreation, educational and employment opportunities, and the worse the transit access to these things, the more blight.

The neighborhoods along Harford Road, both commercial and residential vacancies, will benefit and become more attractive to buyers and developers when the road itself is not just a commuter thoroughfare for County residents speeding through, when it is developed into a Complete Street. Similarly, the neighborhoods just West of Morgan State will benefit from the development of Northwood Commons. Both of these areas are great examples of what could be more livable communities.

Code enforcement, and potentially a tiered tax system are obviously other tools that can be used to directly address bad property owners. When conditions are bad enough and circumstances warrant, absentee landlords should face criminal charges for endangering the public. Turning over properties to Community Land Trusts to create permanently affordable housing, not necessarily for ownership, either, but for rental dwellings as well, is a progressive tool for building neighborhoods of economic diversity and sustainability.

I also believe that arts and cultural based solutions — artist driven development — must be employed. We’re seeing this here with Le Mondo, and the work of Rebuild Foundation in Chicago is a good example of the possibilities of pairing the arts with urban planning and public tools for economic growth. We must, however, avoid at all costs the possibility of
displacement through gentrification.

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?

Of course the $75k+ population is growing, that’s who our tax dollars have incentivized building housing for, and it’s being concentrated in prime areas of opportunity. Our public resources are being used to cater to a population that certain groups of people want to see come here, rather than providing for people who are already living here and struggling. The higher density of wealth we create the easier it is to forget about poor people and not stress the importance of their housing. Both housing and economic opportunity must improve.

I will introduce legislation to increase the minimum wage in Baltimore City to at least $15/hour, and I will not support any tax breaks for Inner Harbor development without similar investments being made in neighborhoods outside the harbor area. Putting more capital in more people’s hands will drive their ability to demand better, collectively being able to support organic local growth to meet the needs of our population at all income levels. Desires of local entrepreneurship and demand for job opportunities will compel Baltimore’s own people to build for ourselves, rather than being reliant on outside investors to simply seek the highest possible profits.

We also need to address the deeply rooted problems in our public school system if we want to attract and keep middle class families in the city, but building economically diverse, healthy neighborhoods with access to all the resources that any reasonable person would want near their home — this will be a key factor in reducing the cost of and actually meeting educational adequacy standards.

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?

I will support whoever our next mayor is in their decision to fire Paul Graziano. As councilman I will take very seriously any role in approving mayoral appointments, thoroughly scrutinizing nominees and the process by which they are sought. We must have frequent and regular audits of every city agency and hold directorship accountable through public hearings. And I will scrutinizing the budget, making sure that it is being taken seriously in the way we all deserve at taxpayers and residents.

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?

Nobody should lose their home because they can’t afford a water bill. Beside the terrible job Baltimore has done at maintaining water services and honestly or accurately billing us, the special accommodations given to high volume corporate users leaves the rest of us subsidizing their profits. Under such conditions it is absolutely unacceptable that water billing ever is part of determining whether one loses their home or not.

In terms of the pros and cons of raising the limit on back taxes due from $250 to something higher, there are conflicting opinions about this and I will continue to listen to both sides. More importantly, we must take the profit out of predatory and speculative buying of tax liens, reducing the allowable interest rate and disallowing attorney fees to be imposed on owners facing foreclosure.

The potential for properties acquired to fall into blight is definitely reason to consider a higher rate of taxation on prolongedly vacant and blighted rental properties, to stave off predatory buyers who would potentially buy large numbers of properties and fail to make improvements or find tenants.

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 will support a common sense plan put forth by our next Mayor that cuts property taxes in a responsible and progressive manner.

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

First, we need a better law, one where the inclusionary component is relative to the need for affordable housing, not whether or not Baltimore City is footing the bill for a percentage of the overall cost of the project, whatever it may be. Then, we simply cannot allow any exceptions, including paying into a build-poor-people-housing-somewhere-else fund. And if other cities like DC can create a functional, enrollment based housing program then so can we. Enforcement of the law must be built into our budget.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 3?

I will fight for a comprehensive plan to end homelessness in Baltimore, a problem that directly affects thousands of people each year and ends up costing our taxpayers money that we would rather see being put to better use. On any given night, almost 3,000 people are homeless in Baltimore. Annually, almost 30,000 people will be homeless in the city. Those who are homeless suffer from poor mental and physical health, and are in danger of being the victims of crime on the street, including children students in our public schools.

To date, our city leaders don’t seem to have a plan to address this problem. Recent shutdowns to encampments where several homeless Baltimoreans were living only exacerbating the difficulty for advocates working to help the homeless gain access to the services they desperately need.

We must reexamine how we are addressing the homeless crisis. This means a comprehensive approach that encompasses the services – or the lack thereof – the city is offering and how they are they delivered, a realistic minimum wage, affordable housing, and adequate health care services to help make Baltimore City a model nationwide for putting the homeless into safe homes and encouraging productive lives.

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