District 8 City Council Candidate David Smallwood on Housing

David Smallwood was the third District 8 candidate to respond to the housing questionnaire. His responses 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?

Baltimore 8th District has more than 3,000 vacant and abandoned properties. I am a life-long resident of the 8th District’s Edmondson Village, Uplands community. Over the past 20-years, I have witnessed an increase in vacant and abandoned properties that have negatively impacted properties values and economic redevelopment. Most vacant properties are attached buildings in residential neighborhoods and are next door to low income or senior citizens’ homes.

As a hands-on, can-do, public servant I will work to deliver solutions by taking the following steps:

(a) Support passage of MD Senate Bill 197, “Vacant and Blighted Buildings” (10/15) that allows the city to create and publish such registry. The list properties can be sold and redeveloped with less “red tape.”
(b) Publish a Six-Year Plan within 100 days in office that fully describes a realistic Community Reinvestment Initiative and strategic plan. The proposed methods for funding sources will focuses on affordable housing options for working families and seniors and career-training opportunities.
(c) Build capacity for the Community Reinvestment Initiative through use of community land trusts, community benefit agreements, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG); Home Investment Partnership (HOME); Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA); and Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) as well as appropriate state and federal programs. The referenced programs will provide funding sources. I will fight for citywide program audits that identify waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money. Cost savings and consolidation of duplicative city services are on the table for consideration.

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?

I will undertake a serious effort to help rebuild the 8th District’s middle class and create career-training opportunities for low income residents aspiring to a higher economic status. One of my highest priorities as a lifelong resident of the 8th District is to help my neighbors improve their economic situation. For too long the economic development of the 8th District has been neglected, leaving our residents to struggle to make ends meet. By supporting economic growth in the 8th District, we will create new jobs and increase the revenue for existing businesses through an increased cash flow among residents. By focusing on rebuilding the middle-class and supporting low income residents, we will begin to move forward on the road to improving the economic situation of our 8th District’s residents.

The lack of affordable housing in 8th District for working families earning $25,000 is a huge issue that must be dealt with. Housing is affordable, however, only to the degree that a family can pay to live in an apartment or home. Terms such as affordable housing and fair market rate are frequently used to describe costs associated with renting or buying a property. Recent research shows that a two-bedroom unit priced at the “Fair Market Rent” (FMR) is likely outside of the financial reach of a full-time worker earning minimum wage in Maryland of $8.75 in 2016 or $10.10 by 2018.

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?

Baltimore City residents, including my constituents of the 8th District, are entitled to accountability and transparency in government. We cannot turn a blind eye TO corruption and closed-door secret deals. It may sound like a common sense approach, but given the long-standing, unacceptable situations at the city’s housing authority, the top leadership needs to be replaced. In addition, I will address:

Accountability – I join the growing consensus for leadership that is accountable to taxpayers, not special individuals or special interests that who unilaterally control access and write the legislation for our city.

Transparency – operate comfortably in a transparent public arena. As a proven leader, I am a critical thinker, communicator, and problem-solving in a climate of change or crisis.

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?

Under my leadership, I will fully participate in the council’s business and voting; give 8th Districts residents improved access to the council’s office and open a 8th District office. Through the use of regularly scheduled town hall meetings, attending community meetings, using social networking, and releasing newsletters, I will inform and listen to residents regarding their suggestions and concerns. A staff member of my office will be assigned to timely address senior issues and develop effective programming.

I will advocate for and support pending city council 2016 legislation proposed by the city council president legislation that creates a local supplement to the state’s Homeowners’ Tax Credit Program. The legislation is a step in the right direction to provide additional assistance to homeowners 62 years and older who have lived in their home for 10 years or more. I will also seek a sliding scale tax reduction geared toward the homeowner who is 62 years old+ that has a joint fixed income of $41,000 to $75,000 a year. The legislation will help working families and seniors to stay in their homes they are paying for, or trying to maintain, respectively. I believe affordability to live independently whether seniors, or young families will linked to potentially reducing the number of vacant homes. Perhaps as important is the demand to stabilize our neighborhoods.

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.

There are several viable plans for tax reduction proposals, including revenue streams, which have been offered by the 2016 mayoral candidates. I will closely confer with stakeholders such as the Housing Policy Watch Group to vet the best options envisioned in each proposal, as well as those that will be development in alignment with my six-year Community Reinvestment Initiative.

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

Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing is designed to require residential/commercial developers building 30 or more units and that receives taxpayer money through TIFs (tax increment financing) and PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes), are to set aside a minimum of 20% as low-cost units. Zoning requiring Projects that require major re-zoning approvals for 30+units must provide 10% as inclusionary units. Under the community land trust and community benefit agreement policy, the city will work through these entities so that they may buy units and sell below the market rate, thereby making the unit affordable and increasing equity in the property.

7. Is there anything else voters should know about your approach to housing in District 8?

Vice President Hubert Humphrey said: “Society will be judged on how it takes care of its youth and how it treats its elderly.” As a former city recreation center director advocating for the youth, and a strong advocate for seniors (and working families), I will lead the 8th District in a positive direction.