District 11 City Council Candidate Greg Sileo on Housing

Greg Sileo was the second of two candidates to respond to the housing questionnaire. His answers are 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?

Throughout my career working in low-income communities I have seen the devastating impact that vacant buildings can have on a community. Knocking on doors in neighborhoods such as Upton and Druid Heights I often have to walk twenty doors before finding another habitable unit. This sort of blight perpetuates poverty and violence and stunts the growth of our City.

While it may be a plan proposed previously, I am a strong proponent of the Land Banking model. Land Banking is being used by over 75 jurisdictions to efficiently handle acquisition, maintenance, and sale of vacant properties. Land Banks can be a valuable tool to both streamline the acquisition of dilapidated properties and to make investment more viable in low-income communities. I would help fund this model by working to enact stricter financial penalties for negligent owners. I would also streamline the process for moving properties into the hands of responsible owners who are focused on rebuilding the community.

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?

As one of the authors of the City’s first plan to end homelessness, I understand the impact of our City’s lack of affordable housing. Workers must make nearly $19 an hour in order to afford a one bedroom apartment in Baltimore City. The gap between our minimum wage and the cost of housing only continues to grow. As homes are renovated and new buildings are constructed, it is essential that many of our city’s residents are not left-behind by our city’s growth.

We must create more affordable housing in order to keep middle and low income residents from leaving the City. As a Council Member, I will advocate for adequate funding and enforcement of the City’s Inclusionary Zoning law to ensure that the original intentions of the program are realized. I will also work with developers who are receiving City tax breaks to identify opportunities for affordable housing within their projects.

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?

As the former Director of the City’s Community Action agency and as the former Director of Homeless Outreach, I worked closely with leadership at both the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development and experienced the dysfunction and lack of vision firsthand. We need immediate change.

As Councilman, I would fight to separate the roles of Housing Commissioner and Executive Director of the Housing Authority. I would also call for the immediate resignation of Commissioner Graziano and would encourage the new Mayor to start a national search for a new, innovative leader that can develop a vision to improve the affordable housing stock in Baltimore.

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?

As someone who has spent his career working in low-income communities, I understand the financial pressures facing many of our residents. Many people are undereducated, underemployed, and forced to make difficult choices between which bills they can pay in a given month. The Baltimore City tax sale process is unforgiving. Residents can lose their homes without any compensation for loss of equity for minor delinquent tax or water bills.

As Councilman, I would fight to increase the delinquent tax bill threshold that sends properties into the tax sale process for homes that are owner-occupied and I would fight to exempt water bill liens from the tax sale process. I would also ensure that residents are better educated on the tax sale process and that proper notice is given and services are offered to residents at risk.

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.

It is imperative that Baltimore reduces its property tax rate in order to be more competitive with the surrounding counties. Family can move to the County and pay substantially less taxes, get more space, higher quality schools, and more responsive services. Lowering taxes will stimulate the housing market and result in greater home ownership.

As an IT consultant working with government, I believe that there are substantial opportunities to use technology to streamline City processes, create efficiencies, and reduce costs. I also agree with proposals to create a separate trash collection fee that will put us on a more even playing field with the surrounding counties.

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

Baltimore’s inclusionary housing law, which was modeled after similar more effective laws in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country, has produced minuscule results since it was passed in 2007. The trust fund, a key component of the law, has been underfunded and the mechanisms that trigger the law have loopholes that are resulting in far more exemptions than affordable units produced.

As Councilman, I would fight for adequate funding of the Inclusionary Housing Trust Fund to ensure that the intentions of the program are realized. I would also work with advocates to identify and close loopholes that are negatively impacting the production of affordable units. Lastly, I would strengthen the law to ensure that the law creates more units affordable to our lowest income residents.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 11?

We need to do more to keep families in Baltimore and create homeownership opportunities. The 11th District is home to the highest concentration of anchor institutions in the City including the University of Maryland Medical Center, Mercy Hospital, University of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of Art, and the University of Maryland Baltimore. I believe that our partnerships with these institutions can be stronger.

As councilman, I would fight to expand Live Near Your Work incentives by:

− Meeting with the heads of anchor institutions to increase participation in programs which offer financial incentives (to cover down payments and closing costs) to employees who buy a home near where they work.

− Reinvesting recent increases in the City’s Transfer and Recordation taxes to fund higher incentives along with low-interest fixed rate mortgages for employees who choose to live in transitioning communities.

− Advocating for Live Near Your Work incentives targeting teachers who choose to live near their schools.