District 8 City Council Candidate Kristerfer Burnett on Housing

The second candidate from District 8 to respond to the questionnaire was Kristerfer Burnett. His 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?

I would support implementing a vacant property tax to discourage speculation by investors and to encourage and incentivize homeownership. The vast majority of vacant homes are privately owned and severely neglected. Owners don’t pay their fair share of property taxes due to having lower assessments than homeowners who do invest in the upkeep of their homes.

Starting with a block-by-block housing condition assessment in targeted areas throughout the 8th District that struggle the most with blight, I would work in tandem with Baltimore Housing Code Enforcement, local community associations, and other stakeholders to hold absentee property owners accountable. I believe the combination of repeated citations, and in some cases, the utilization of the Community Bill of Rights to file suit against nuisance property owners can make an impact on the prevalence of vacant homes in our city.

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?

The implementation of a community land trust allows for homes in a neighborhood to remain permanently affordable, providing access to low-cost housing in communities that need it most. Too often, families living in communities that are heavily blighted become victims of the forces of gentrification at the hands of the private market. I support policies that would allow for communities, in strategic partnership with housing non-profits and community-based organizations, to implement community land trusts. This model has proven to be particularly effective in similarly sized cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston and Seattle, and I believe it can be effectively implemented here in Baltimore City.

I also believe that publicly financed large-scale private residential development should include an affordable housing requirement. Thousands of people in Baltimore cycle through homelessness every year, and in 2015, Baltimore City had the second highest rate of foreclosure in the country. Therefore, it is imperative that an emphasis be placed on addressing housing affordability in Baltimore City and implementing strategies that increase access to housing and stabilize communities.

One way I would work to do that is to eliminate loopholes in the current inclusionary housing ordinance, which have allowed some developers to receive millions of dollars in public subsidies without creating a single unit of affordable housing.

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?

While I agree that there are many issues with the current leadership at the Housing Authority, tThe City Council has limited ability to make direct personnel decisions. I would hold the Housing Authority accountable for it’s inability to have quality public housing in Baltimore City by. Though, I would collaboratinge with local, state, and federal elected officials to apply pressure on Housing Authority leadership and the Mayor’s office to bring change through measures that promote greater transparency in how our money is spent, including yearly agency-wide performance and financial audits.

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?

In the Spring of 2015, Baltimore City announced plans to shutoff water service to disconnect water service to as many as 25,000 customers who fell behind on their water bills. The public health crisis that this decision created is why I support the “Water for All” discount program. In our city, water access affordability is a major issue for a significant number of residents. According to 2015 census data:

• More than 80,000 households make less than $25,000 per year
• More than 33% of children in Baltimore are living in poverty

Additionally, over the last 15 years Baltimore City water and sewer rates have tripled—making access to water increasingly difficult for low-income families. Due to rate increases and ongoing issues with billing accuracy, low-income residents can be forced to make tough decisions on whether to pay their water bill or provide for themselves and their families. I firmly believe that this is a human rights issue, and fully support the implementation of a program that ensures every resident has access to safe and affordable water service. Finally, I also support the creation of an ombudsman office to address issues and provide assistance for residents seeking resources to ensure they have access to clean water. After discussing this issue with residents while canvassing for my campaign, it became apparent that I needed to carry forms for the Senior Discount Program and to request a water bill review; far too many are unaware of either resource.

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.

As a homeowner in West Baltimore, I would certainly appreciate a tax reduction but given the current state of the city and the needs of our communities, I would not support a reduction of the property tax rate at this time. I expect the city to be fiscally responsible and transparent in how it uses those tax revenues, which is where there is a missed opportunity with audits. Many homeowners have shared with me deep frustration with the lack of transparency on how the taxes are being spent.

Nearly fifty percent of the city’s general fund revenue is generated by property taxes and significant cuts would likely result in a negative impact on city services. I believe that work needs to be done to grow our tax base, which starts with making our neighborhoods stronger and safer, eliminating blight, and improving our public schools—all of which will draw families back into the city and encourage renters to seek a pathway to homeownership.

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

Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law needs more than just enforcement; it needs significant revision. While other cities are producing hundreds of units of affordable housing, Baltimore City has only produced 32 units since the ordinance went into effect in 2008. One of the most significant changes I would support is not requiring the City to purchase the units at market value; the law needs to be structured to provide non-financial incentives, rather than ones that cost the City money it is not willing to spend. In addition, the ordinance needs to be sensitive to the variations in the housing market that exist even within the city. I would support changes to Baltimore City’s inclusionary housing law that that would have stronger mandates for inclusionary housing in areas that have experienced increased demand for housing development. It’s important that everybody enjoy the benefits of new development and have access to all neighborhoods in our city.

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

I believe more can and should be done to engage city residents in the planning and implementation process. Both programs have serious barriers to entry for city residents to have a seat at the table and share their vision in the redevelopment of their own neighborhoods.

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