Reposted from Housing Policy Watch:
People make much of the idea of “two cities” in Baltimore — one, affluent and white, and the other is usually labeled as poor and black. This view leaves out the third group: the folks, black and white, who earn around the city’s median income of $40,000 or so, and have solid potential to be upwardly mobile over the long term. You know — the working families who don’t consider themselves rich or poor, just…somewhere in the middle trying to get by. They don’t qualify for housing assistance, and even if they did — they probably wouldn’t apply (who has the time to hold down a full-time job, run a household, raise kids or take care of elderly parents or an ailing spouse, and commit to the arduous process of applying for social services?), and there isn’t a whole lot of moderate-income housing for them anyway.
It’s not like I’m saying anything I haven’t said a million times before, and won’t keep saying — but I have to wonder why, in a city with so much potential safe and affordable housing — we have so little of it.
One of the reasons is the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is the agency in charge of setting what they deem a “Fair Market Rent (FMR) for every Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Our MSA includes Towson, Columbia, and all the other wealthy suburbs in between. The idea is to set the FMR at a level that would allow low- and very low-income renters who receive Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers to move from their neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into areas of prosperity (and higher rents). This is problematic on multiple levels:
- Most poor people, through either a lack of means or a desire to stay near jobs, family, and other support systems, don’t actually move far away if at all. It’s hard to leave family support and friends, particularly if a low-income family relies on family and friends for childcare and/or transportation. Also, many wealthier suburbs (and even wealthier city neighborhoods) don’t have adequate or reliable public transit, making it hard for low-income families to access jobs, childcare, doctors, or shopping.
- Because the FMR is based on a geographic area that includes wealthier suburbs, the FMR is unreasonably high in many of our moderate- and low-income neighborhoods. To ask someone earning the median, or just on either side of the median, to pay $1250 a month (approximate FMR for a two-bedroom house or apartment in the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson MSA) without housing assistance in many of our neighborhoods drives out the stabilizing force that moderate-income working families bring. It also drives away their current and future tax dollars, and consumer spending.
Many of our city’s neighborhoods, despite news and other reports to the contrary, are either stagnating, or they’re becoming even more concentrated areas of poverty, as more prosperous neighborhoods receive development projects and other attention from the State and City governments. (See concentrated poverty map again, to reiterate this point.) Oftentimes, this is due to investors snapping up cheap and foreclosed homes to flip and turn into Section 8 rentals. In Pigtown, one LLC flipped one block of homes to another LLC, for around $19,000 each, further destabilizing home prices. Inexplicably, one of the homes is now on the market for $174,000, when many homes on surrounding streets are on the market for far less. How long before this block of homes is turned into Section 8 rentals, if they don’t sell? Turning them into rentals those with moderate incomes could afford would be the better course of action — it would add stability to a floundering neighborhood, and could potentially raise property values as these renters turn into buyers.
From a 2003 National Housing Institute/Shelterforce article:
During the past decade, speculators saw an opportunity in Patterson Park – and in the loopholes of the voucher program. They found they could snap up vacant rowhouses for as little as $10,000, give them a fresh coat of paint, pass Section 8 inspection, and start to rake in vouchers worth $700 a month, much more than the rentals would be worth on the private market. As groups of out-of-town investors got in on the deal, Section 8 families flooded into as many as 700 of Patterson Park’s rowhouses. The neighborhood became visibly poorer and shabbier as the landlords ignored maintenance. “The people buying here were not experienced property managers,” Rutkowski says. “They were accountants and lawyers in the suburbs.”
While Patterson Park has improved considerably since 2003, it still struggles with investor-owned low-income housing. Something that could have alleviated current and past problems — mixed-income housing, and the stability that moderate-income earners bring to the table.
Some encouraging news was reported in this morning’s Baltimore Sun: One development near the biopark in West Baltimore will have 20% of its planned units set aside for moderate- and low-income tenants. Whether this plan comes to fruition or not — that remains to be seen.
Making affordable housing for working families a top priority of City and State government needs to happen. Our city cannot afford to be divided in three — it needs to come together to find real solutions that aren’t tied to nice-sounding theories and campaign contributions. Solid investments in our neighborhoods, a commitment to making Baltimore a liveable city, and reworking of HUD’s FMR would be a great start. Let’s make this happen in 2015 — together.
Home ownership rates fell to an 18-year low, according to a report issued by the US Census Bureau on Thursday.
Banks are retreating from low-income neighborhoods, especially those hit hard by predatory lending.
Should landlords be allowed to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders? (Or conversely, should landlords be able to run “Section 8 Only” ads, thereby discriminating against those who work?)
To buy, or not to buy…the renter’s dilemma.
A two-alarm fire wiped out two homes in Baltimore — there have been lots of fires on the west side recently, hopefully BCFD Chief Clack is paying attention and realizes his plan to move a company to the east side would be unwise.
The Community Law Center is suing Scott Wizig, a large-scale slumlord who owns many of our city’s blighted homes. Nice to see other people are finally getting on board with running some of these folks out of town.
Should we continue to pour our tax dollars into the Inner Harbor and Harbor East? This letter-writer to the Sun says no.
Five years after a Philly woman lost her home to deed thieves, she finally gets the house back.
Can a neighborhood overcome its past? One neighborhood in Chicago has, despite its chilling origins.
Lead poisoning cases are down in Maryland, however — the number of cases linked to homes not covered by Maryland law is on the rise. Sounds like it’s time to amend the law.
Speaking of lead paint — the venerable Kennedy Krieger Institute is being sued in a class-action lawsuit filed by Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy. In the lawsuit, Murphy alleges Kennedy Krieger exposed poor black children to dangerous levels of lead.
Not only is Paul Graziano in the hot seat for refusing to pay settlements of lead paint cases, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa would also like to know how Baltimore’s Housing Authority spent $67 million in federal stimulus money. We’d like to know the answer to that, too.
Jamie Smith Hopkins reports the number of vacant homes in Maryland has increased by 35%, in Baltimore alone, the number rose by 10%. Jamie also wrote a post about rents in Baltimore — and a number of commenters wondered if the high rents charged by landlords who own subsidized housing is skewing the average rent figures — In 2009, the Cato Institute brought this up in an article on federally subsidized housing:
Some landlords, in fact, specialize in Section 8, becoming experts at the complex regulations, and they skillfully work the system to their financial advantage. With Section 8 tenants, landlords don’t have to worry about nonpayment, because the government deposits its share of the rent—the lion’s share—directly into the property owner’s bank account. Moreover, for many buildings the government-paid rent is more than the market rent would be. The reason is that the program allows voucher holders to pay up to the average rent in their entire metropolitan area, and landlords in lower-income neighborhoods, where rents are below average, simply charge voucher holders exactly that average rent.