Thursday, March 17, 2016

Poverty in Baltimore County and how to address it with housing

Judging from the online comments under an article on the SUN website about the HUD settlement agreement with Baltimore County one would think that all of the County's poverty and problems come from the City. But that is as false as the idea that all of the nation's problems come from Mexico. Building a wall won't help in either case.

Baltimore County will now start to lose its middle class blacks, other minorities and whites who will be moving out to avoid the troubles of the city which caused them to move away from originally! 
Because they will fear real estate values plummeting, schools lowering standards, drugs and crime activity increasing, they will move to other counties or even out of Maryland. This is the Federal government's renewed focus on forcing housing integration as they did busing back in the 60s and... (Mimi Barron)

The commenters overlook that the County has its own poverty, pretty much like any jurisdiction in America and it is a growing segment of the population that falls into that category. The County is also growing more diverse, just like the rest of America. Which gets to the matter of race which lies at the root of the complaint against the County. 
Blue: Baltimore County: Rising poverty levels
As the SUN has pointed out in its editorial and Dan Rodrick's commentary, the settlement aims to curb longstanding   race discrimination against black families in Baltimore County's housing policies. The County administration isn't coming to this settlement with enthusiasm and it remains to be seen, how well the elements of the agreement will be implemented.

No matter on where one stands on HUD's current housing policies, affirmative action or race integration, it is important to understand that the problem of housing for the poor or for minorities doesn't go away by simply not providing public housing or affordable housing or continue to discriminate. Ignoring to supply decent affordable housing for all will result in slumlords taking up the demand, further racial segregation, and decrepit conditions creeping into previously healthy communities. By contrast, well managed affordable, diverse housing provides a stepping stone for residents and can be an asset to any community as Montgomery County's inclusionary zoning and integrated affordable housing demonstrates.

I have asked my friend and legal expert Ben Groff who edits my weekly blogs to summarize the facts of the settlement. Here his synopsis:
The settlement with Baltimore Neighborhoods and the specific complainants has general and specific provisions.  The general provisions include an acknowledgement by the County that it has an affirmative duty not to discriminate or to retaliate against a person filing a complaint.
The specific provisions include causing
  • development of 1000 new "Hard Units" over 12 years,
  •  a concerted effort over multiple years and administrations if necessary to pass a county law banning source of income discrimination,
  • the setting up of a Mobility Counseling Program to market and provide to families in need of housing units resulting in 2000 new families finding housing via housing choice vouchers (HCV) or other similar program,
  • the creation of a Modification Fund for accessibility improvements budgeting $300,000 per year,
  • creation of a new position in the Office of Housing called the Reasonable Accommodations coordinator, and other updates and reforms to county policies.
Both the new Hard Units and vouchers are to be geographically distributed among a number of higher income census tracts identified in two tables attached to the agreement as Exhibit F.  Exhibit F, Table A census tracts are the most desirable, and a cap of 142 of the total new Hard Units can be placed in a secondary set of census tracts in Exhibit F, Table B.  
All of the 2000 families utilizing the Mobility Counseling program should find housing in the Exhibit F, Table A census tracts.  To incentivize creation of Hard Units, the county will budget $3 million of its own funds (not from state, federal, or philanthropic source) per year for 10 years to entice private development. 
The Hard Units can be new construction, substantial rehabilitation, acquisition, or existing housing stock, so long as the County makes a good faith effort at even geographic distribution.  
opportunity map 
  • 650 of the units should be new construction or substantial rehabilitation for families with household income less than 60% of area median income (AMI) and
  • 150 of the units should be new construction or substantial rehabilitation for families at less than 30% AMI.  
  • Overall, a total of 30% of the units should be affordable for 30% AMI families and the remainder affordable to 60% AMI families.
  • 100 Hard Units must be accessible units, and no more than 10 accessible units may be located in a given census tract.  
  • 500 Hard Units must be three or more bedrooms, and no Hard Units can be zero bedroom, efficiency, or single resident occupant (SRO).
Requirements for marketing of both the new Hard Units and the new HCVs under the Mobility Counseling program exist to ensure that the programs are marketing to those with housing need based on income or disability.  
The County must require from developers the preparation of a Conciliation Agreement Marketing Plan ensuring marketing of new units to African-American families using HCVs, African-American families at less than 60% AMI and no HCV, or those families with at least one member who requires a housing unit due to a disability.
Exhibit E lists 9 existing public housing properties that must be preserved by the County and cannot count as Hard Units, however, public housing constructed prior to 1988 or 1991 may be repurposed to meet the requirements.  
After 120 days of signing the Agreement, the County must submit to HUD its strategies to ensure geographic dispersal of units among the identified census tracts and to avoid "undu[e] concentrat[ion]." (Ben Groff, JD)

The referenced exhibit F shows the census tract numbers where the required affordable units can be located. Since a translation of those numbers into a map exceeds the possibilities of this blog, I include an opportunity map of the region that show the areas of higher and lower opportunity in City and County which are a relatively good approximation to where the settlement  allows locating affordable units (in areas of opportunity).

I will prepare a more comprehensive discussion about "poverty and race in the suburbs" for an upcoming weekly blog.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Updated for a better understanding of the race component in the complaint 

Graphics taken from a presentation prepared by Barbara Hopkins, JD, Executive Director of NeighborSpace Baltimore County
 Magnitude of the Public Policy Challenges in Baltimore County