Friday, January 31, 2020

Ralph Moore: We have not done right by the large communities of poor persons in Baltimore

Third in the series of interviews with Baltimore Stakeholders features Ralph Moore, a well known community activist. This interview follows interviews with Reverend Dr. Alvin Hathaway, and entrepreneur David Troy.

The idea is to widen the perspective of the pre-election debate through the voices of a number of prominent Baltimore stakeholders who express their views about the state of Baltimore, the candidates, their preferences, sentiments, recommendations  and suggestions for what should be done.
Activist Ralph Moore on the steps of the War Memorial
(Photo: Peace X Peace)

I will publish the responses in random order over the coming months on this blog. The interviews are not in any way intended to be representative.

Inter-dispersed with the interviews are the findings of a representative study about what Baltimoreans care about, conducted last fall by the Open Society Institute Baltimore published this Monday under the title "Blueprint for Baltimore".  At the time I conducted the interviews the OSI report had not yet been released.

The below is from OSI's press release:
Open Society Institute-Baltimore and community partners including Baltimore Votes, Black Girls Vote, Black Leaders Organizing for Change, CASA, and the No Boundaries Coalition conducted the city-wide survey from mid-October to early December, recording more than 5,000 responses, mostly through on-the-ground canvassing, augmented by online outreach. Candidates for Mayor and City Council President will be asked to respond to the data collected in the survey at a series of forums. The first one, a mayoral forum, will be February 5th at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (register here). 
OSI report "Blueprint for Baltimore"

Ralph Moore

1.     Are you overall optimistic about Baltimore or pessimistic? Why?
Overall, I am optimistic about Baltimore despite the reality of the difficult days we are in now in terms of the violence in our city.  Someday there will be acknowledgement and consequent action that we have not done right by the large communities of poor persons in Baltimore: not enough decent affordable housing, too many low paying jobs, struggling schools and too many guns and drugs while there is too little access to quality mental and physical healthcare.  But more and more citizens are becoming aware of the disparities and disrespect of Baltimore’s poor citizens and that will lead to more engagement and progress eventually. The 2020 election turnouts will tell us something but increasing citizen actions such as Baltimore Ceasefire, the 1000 Men March during this year’s MLK Day parade etc. are signs of an awakening.

2.     What three issues do you suggest should be the top priority of the new Mayor?
The three issues that should be priorities for the new Mayor, I think, are:  More jobs that pay a living wage with benefits, available access to jobs with more and better public transportation and more decent, affordable housing in the city.  Improving the city schools would be my fourth issue

3.     If you were to advise a candidate for Mayor what would be your best suggestion?
I would urge the candidates for Mayor to get to know the underserved areas of the city: their citizens, their lack of commercial development and clean alleys and streets, the schools and the public transportation in and out of the neighborhood.  And I would develop an individual neighborhood renaissance plan for Sandtown, Park Heights, Westport, Oliver and other such areas east, west, north, south and center in the city.  The models should be how we developed Canton and Remington for examples. They should be models for predominantly poor Black and Brown areas of the city.  But specific, timely plans and reorganization of city government to make them happen sooner as opposed to later will help save our city. WE screw poor people in Baltimore every day without thinking twice about it:  we reneged on the $15/hour minimum wage.  In criminal justice we let the cops all go free after a man from one of the poorest neighborhoods died in the Police Department’s custody, no officers were charged criminally and none of the officers were reprimanded for violating Police Department policy , and finally in political justice we let the establishment steal the last mayoral election when most wanted a mayoral candidate more in touch with the whole city, despite “gift card” issues.   Let the people decide elections fairly.
Baltimore: Abandonment and glitter (Photo: Philipsen)
4.     What should the next US President should do for cities?
The next President should create an urban jobs program that pays a living wages and good benefits for cities.  Job training and readiness should be part of the efforts.  He/she should push for much stronger gun control that would help decrease the number of guns and make it harder to get guns and ammunition. Internet sales and gun show sales should be eliminated.  The President to encourage manufacturers to return to inner-cities and should decrease the Defense Department budget to pay for more human needs.

5.     What recent local fact has given you hope for Baltimore?
I am a “dubious” Catholic so the new school the Archdiocese of Baltimore is building in West Baltimore is a small, good sign of progress and naming it for Mother Mary Lange, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence also moves in the right direction.  The fact that the William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, publically pledged his support of the Kirwan Commission recommendations to the General Assembly to improve PUBLIC EDUCATION for even the poorest of children of Maryland is a good statement.  Lori made this statement at a Faith in Baltimore event at Center Stage on Martin Luther King’s birthday.

6.     What recent local fact has depressed you the most?
The homicide rate in the city is clearly the most depressing fact in the City.

7.     Do you support a particular candidate for Mayor and for City Council?
Because of my wife’s sensitive position as the Deputy City Solicitor, I am not publicly acknowledging a favorite candidate for Mayor.  But I am not convinced someone totally inexperienced in city government is what Baltimore needs now.

8.     What personal contribution to Baltimore are you most proud of?
I just do the work I think is needed.  Not interested in bragging on or acknowledging myself.

Ralph Eugene Moore, Jr. was born in Baltimore City in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore in 1952. He grew up with seven brothers and sisters who were members of St. Pius V Church.  He attended St. Pius V Catholic Elementary School and was educated by the Oblate Sisters of Providence from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. Ralph, Jr. attended Loyola High School in Towson, Md. on a Carroll Scholarship, and graduated in the class of 1970.  
He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1974 with a degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences. 
He married in February of 2002. Mr. Moore was chair of the Transportation Committee for CPHA; chair of the City’s anti-poverty agency, the Human Services Commission, and served on the boards of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, The Job Opportunities Task Force and Sojourner Douglass College.  He was the director of the Community Center at St. Frances Academy from January 2002 until June of 2012. He taught pre-GED classes at the Healthy Start Center and the Reisterstown Plaza campuses of the Baltimore City Community College until recently.
Ralph Moore at Peace Camp in 2018, a program
of Strong City Baltimore he founded
(Photo: Strong City Baltimore)
Ralph Moore is formerly the Coordinator of Mentoring for the Adult Resource Center of the Living Classrooms Foundation.  He was Program Manager at Restoration Gardens, a 43 unit apartment building and resource center for formerly homeless youth in southern Park Heights. Moore currently teaches pre-GED students part-time at the Healthy Start Center in the Middle East neighborhood in the city.
He enjoys his family, politics, civil rights history, movies, reading and all things Motown.

Other articles and interviews in this series:

Alvin Hathaway: A Marshall Plan for Cities!

David Troy: Joan Pratt should be fully investigated

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pratt's libraries: Common ground in a divided society

In this election season and the simplified campaign talks there is little good being said about Baltimore, except that every candidate confesses to loves it for all its flaws.

So it is necessary to point out from time to time, that not all is bad. I often remark that the only local public service that works real well is Baltimore's Parking Authority, especially the ticketing of parking scofflaws. But there is at least one other public system that deserves high praise and that is Baltimore's Enoch Pratt library system.
The refurbished main hall of the Pratt Main Branch
(Photo: Philipsen)

How much that is so became clear to me when I attended a talk about libraries on the foreign soil of the Finnish Embassy in Washington. Under the title "Mind Building" it called attention to Finnish library architecture and the related library exhibit in the embassy gleaned from the Finnish pavilion of the 2018 Architecture Biennale in Venice.

The embassy had convened a high powered talking panel including Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of the D.C. Public Library, Michael A. Wiencek Jr., founder of Wiencek + Associates Architects, and Roswell Encinca, Chief Communications Officer of the Library of Congress. From Finland attended Tommi Laitio, City of Helsinki’s Executive Director of Culture and Leisure, and Hanna Harris, Director of Archinfo Finland and Commissioner of the exhibition.

My insight into how well Baltimore compares came when the panelists began talking less about architecture and more about active citizenship, freedom of speech, equality, inclusion and civic engagement.

Seen through that lens, architecture became just the shell that empowered such notions; even the book was no longer the main vehicle to drive these services. Tommi Laitio reminded the American audience that it was Andrew Carnegie who said  libraries are "the palaces for the people.” Laitio said: "Quality and beauty are civil rights. He noted that libraries are often valued in principle but rarely visited. "We wanted to change that", he said, a true to his portfolio started selling sports tickets in the library. He passionately said: “We need libraries to be side by side with other people that are not like us."
Branch library Canton (Pratt photo)

So how does Baltimore come in here?

Firstly, Enoch Pratt who laid the foundation for one of the first public library systems in the country was like Carnegie a wealthy business man with a heavy bent for philanthropy. (In fact, Carnegie donated to the Pratt system in 1905 to build 20 new library branches).
Then there was Laitio who echoed exactly what Baltimore's library system director Carla Hayden had promoted for 23 years. In that period libraries have gone from places that were "hush-hush" and housed collections of books to being community centers that provide access to a variety of media or provide community services that are entirely beyond media. Thus, the Pratt has traditional story times for children and hosts book groups but is also a place for yoga and meditation sessions, art workshops, and educational classes for all kinds of people, including those who don't care about books. In that the library has become one of the few places that cuts effortlessly across all classes and races. This is also an explanation why libraries around the world haven't lost their attraction, even though the book as a medium has so much competition.
Panelist at Finnish Embassy talk about libraries

Hayden, of course, went on to become the CEO of the largest library in the world., the library of Congress, where she brings the same concept of openness and service to this revered institution.

And as if this wasn't enough, Hayden's communication director Roswell Encinca sat right there on the panel and talked how the Library of Congress was now devoting itself to those same exact principles. He was previously Hayden's communication director in Baltimore and hired again by her once she moved on to Washington three years ago.

And as far as architecture:  Baltimore's central library, since 1933 right across from Latrobe's Cathedral and not far from the Peabody, is a wonderful and freshly refurbished flagship. (Its $115 million renovation was completed late last year). Many branches aspire to the same historic "palace" tradition, but some of the total 21 branches are well designed modern interpretations of the library as a place of community. In 2015 during the unrest following the  death of Freddie Grey, the Pratt at Penn and North served as a safe place while the intersection right in front was the ground central of the demonstrations.
Carla Hayden and President Obama
(Pratt photo)

The idea of library as a community service and "Mind Building" exercise is also carried forth in contributions of the Weinberg Foundation and 30 partners (including the Pratt Library system) towards 24 excellent libraries in Baltimore's new or refurbished 21 st century schools.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, January 27, 2020

David Troy: Joan Pratt should be fully investigated.

This continues the series of interviews with Baltimore Stakeholders. The first response in this series came from Reverend Dr. Alvin Hathaway.

The below set of responses comes from David Troy, "serial entrepreneur and techie, curator of the Mid Atlantic Ted Talks and co-founder and moderator of Baltimore City Voters, the premier online place where Baltimore residents can voice and their concerns and opinions. (For bio information see below)
David Troy, an international speaker and start-up entrepreneur 

David Troy
  1. Are you overall optimistic about Baltimore or pessimistic? Why?
Ten years ago I was very optimistic; the incompetence and corruption we have experienced since has made me more discouraged. And the city has suffered mightily in the wake of the aftermath of the Freddie Gray murder. Even while that incident galvanized a lot of positive activism, the economic effects have made reforms more difficult to enact. However, people are demanding real improvements, and we are starting to see them happen, even if through baby-steps.
  1. What three issues do you suggest should be the top priority of the new Mayor?
I have told the last three mayors the same things: audits, accountability, and police reform. We still don’t have a handle on our financial or performance metrics for city agencies — especially benchmarked against other cities. We could be publishing all our checks online, like NYC does with And the ancient arrangement where BPD is a state agency needs to be addressed; we’re spending upwards of 25% of our budget on an agency we don’t control and can’t legislate around. That’s nuts.
OSI report "Blueprint for Baltimore"

  1. If you were to advise a candidate for Mayor what would be your best suggestion?
Open up the audit process to citizen review. There is an audit oversight committee; it should include citizen members, and it should seek benchmarks against other city agency best practices worldwide.
Mural on Greenmount Ave (Photo Philipsen)

  1. What should the next US President should do for cities?
I think changing federal highway policy to favor transit instead of expanding roads would help cities because it would decrease sprawl and bad land use policy. Jane Jacobs said, correctly, that cities are our economic engines. We should embrace that reality and make them as dense and interconnected as possible.
  1. What recent local fact has given you hope for Baltimore?
That we now have an independent Inspector General is an excellent development. Isabel Cumming is a gem and will set an example for future occupants of the office.

  1. What recent local fact has depressed you the most?
I am dismayed to see Baltimore used as a punching bag and a set prop by right-leaning actors looking to stoke division. This felt like a coda to some of what we experienced in 2015, and we don’t need more of it. Interlopers should go make their own communities better.

  1. Do you support a particular candidate for Mayor and for City Council?
I haven’t settled on a candidate for Mayor yet. These contests are always tough, because in some ways the outcomes are preordained through name recognition, group affiliation, and money. Whoever wins, I hope that person is open-minded and coachable, and I’d be delighted to volunteer time and talent to any projects our next mayor pursues where I can be helpful. The one thing I don’t think we can tolerate is more corruption, and I will actively seek it out and publicize it if it is found.

Zumba in Harbor East (Photo Philipsen)
For City Council President, I’ve not settled on a candidate, but Shannon Sneed is very impressive. I’m also a big fan of Odette Ramos for the 14th.

  1. What personal contribution to Baltimore are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the work we are doing on the Baltimore City Voters group on Facebook. Baltimore is known as “smalltimore” or “a city of neighborhoods.” In my opinion those have always also been code words for a kind of “divide and conquer” strategy. We need to create a shared civic reality. Ironically, Facebook and Twitter have done a lot to break down civic reality and drive us further into cultish groups, but I do think it can be used to make connections and bring us closer together. It just takes some time and discipline, and I’m looking forward to expanding that work over time.

  1. Any final thought?
I’d very much like to see the abuses of the network of people who benefited from inside dealing connected to the last Mayor’s removal addressed. This includes Comptroller Joan Pratt. She should be fully investigated. I think Bill Henry would be a tremendous asset in that role, and I hope he wins.

OSI report "Blueprint for Baltimore"

Dave Troy is a serial entrepreneur and community activist in Baltimore, Maryland. He is currently CEO and product architect at 410 Labs, maker of the popular e-mail management tools and Chuck. He has been acknowledged by the founding team at Twitter as the first developer to utilize the Twitter API, with his project “Twittervision,” which was featured in the 2008 MoMA exhibition “Design and the Elastic Mind,” curated by Paola Antonelli. His current projects use social network data to map cities. He is also curator of TEDxMidAtlantic in Washington, DC and is passionate about data, cities, and entrepreneurship. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children. He lives in Mt. Vernon and is the lead administrator and co-founder of the popular Facebook group, Baltimore City Voters, which is designed to provide a platform for big-tent civics that bridges Baltimore’s diverse communities.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

How Baltimore could move up from its F in transportation

To say that Baltimore City's DOT has a fractious relation to its private transportation vendors is an understatement. It would be closer to the truth to call it a continuous failure to provide oversight and quality assurance. Even broader than that one could say that Baltimore transportation in general deserves a failing grade. Not for lack of "stuff" but for how its is operated.
Intermodal bus stop at North Avenue. Penn North
was remodeled as part of "North Avenue Rising"
(Photo: Philipsen)

Remember the Baltimore bike-share where we had the largest fleet of electric bikes? The scandal when a DOT employee sold surplus bus stop shelters for his own profit? When the Circulator operator Transdev was allowed to charge all scheduled service runs, whether they happened or not and how the City then wound up to sue the global company? How the then selected new Circulator provider immediately ran into trouble with operator training and having the necessary buses at the ready? How the Baltimore water taxi doesn't operate 7 days a week year round as required in the license agreement and instead in the shoulder seasons runs boats only on the weekends, and not at all in the winter except for the mandated commuter "Connector" services?

Remember, how an attempt to clear intersections of cars blocking them because of poor signal timing led to complete gridlock for days because the City tried in vain to optimize the traffic lights better? The end result was to go back to how it was before, i.e. a system that is totally frustrating to anybody who uses the streets, whether on a bike, on foot, in a bus or in a car.  Remember the bike lanes first installed and then removed again? Not only once but twice?

The most recent news , then, that the City failed to collect the ride-share taxes from Uber and Lyft even though Uber had actually charged its rider the surcharge, come as no surprise.
The failed and abandoned Bewegen 
bike-share agreement (Photo: Philipsen)

Each of these failures has many reasons and a complicated back-story. In none of the examples does all the blame go to the City, even though poorly written "requests for proposals" lead to poorly defined contracts that then, ultimately are not enforceable in the vendor relations. A lot of articles in this space have been devoted to the ugly details, no point to repeat them here except to say the City should swap prescriptive procurement for outcome based procurement wherever possible, especially in transportation services. A lot has been said about the lack of interest and understanding on the side of Baltimore Mayors, let alone leadership, when it comes to transportation.

Which leads us to the question where to go from here?

For this it is useful to recall that most of Baltimore's transportation isn't in the hands of the City but is managed by the State. That is true for transit and for many highways. Here Baltimore is in the unique position of maintaining all the roads that are elsewhere State Highways under the responsibility of SHA. Many drivers and transit users can tell where the City line is by the precarious change in road condition, whether it is the smoothness of the pavement or the quality of winter service, such as salting and plowing.  Here, too, the matter is complicated by the fact that the State is supposed to reimburse the City but that it has dwindled those funds over the years to a point, that the City can't do a good job any longer.
the ill conceived separation of tourist water taxi and commuter taxi
(Photo: Philipsen)

In the case of MTA transit, one could argue that it is better than its reputation, but there is no question that it, too is marred from lack of resources, a poor state of good repair and various communication blunders which do little to endear the service with its users.

The best functioning transportation related "service"in the City is unwelcome to most:  Ticketing for unlawful parking! Something that works all year round with admirable
The new water taxi fleet with Plank Industries custom
ordered boats (Photo: Philipsen)
efficiency, even when the computers are down in a hacker attack. The "meter maids" were there, undeterred and went back to their good old paper pads. But as noted, this efficiency doesn't create good feelings about the City and transportation either, no matter that the Parking Autority also runs parking garages and residential parking permits equally efficiently and that it is overall a standout in effective work, use of modern technology, and prompt service. No doubt every other City department could learn from the Parking Authority.

The unmarked buses running the Circulator
service  for lack of functional buses (Photo: Philipsen)
In short, though, Baltimore needs a nearly complete overhaul when it comes to transportation. Progress is underway. The fact that DOT is now headed up by an effective manager, Steve Sharkey, is good news. Also good news is that DOT and MTA are now in weekly communication, which is a big deal, since MTA can't run buses effectively when the signals don't work, the bus lanes are blocked or not permitted, or bus shelters can't be placed for lack of space. MTA bus reliability is also on the uptick (75%) but still far from optimal. (85% or above).

Looking ahead to a new Mayor and the campaign, it is pertinent that transportation becomes a top priority (along with crime and housing as I noted before) and that the thinking shifts from specialty silos to a comprehensive outcome-based approach. For that, it is useful to remember that poor transportation is a major factor in poverty and that poverty is a huge factor in crime. As in no access to jobs, unreliable trips or much too long commute times as deterrents to finding, having or keeping a job.

So the outcome should be to give more people  better (faster and more reliable) access to jobs in the entire region. This may involve many travel modes such as MARC trains, light rail, buses, shuttles, boats, rideshare and yes, also the much maligned bicycles and scooters. At least for some people. The transit industry now calls this "mobility as a service", a fashionable term that for too is little more than a fancy app on a smart phone on which one can book a ride across various modes and providers with one push of a button. This is certainly nice, but means little if there isn't the right service on the ground in the first place. But transit as a service as an integrated cross-platform and across provider approach to providing travel options is immensely useful. The Regional Transit Plan (RTP) due this October should be based on this outcome based goal of faster and more reliable service to more people than it is currently offered and clearly spell out how that can be achieved. But the City representative on the commission overseeing the RTP has yet to demand such a concise goal.
Light rail continues to lose riders and operates far below target figures
(Photo: Philipsen)

Mobility as a (public) service also has a lot to do with cost and fares. Since the beginning of transit riders pay their fare with coins on the carriage (bus).  Each new carriage on the trip is a new fare.  The time for that archaic approach is up. (MTA already offers free transfers when trips are paid on their transit app). Archaic frae structures have set transit on a death spiral of sinking ridership, higher fares, even lower ridership in cities across the US. The well known result is that too many people get around in cars, congest the roads and foul up the air while those without a car are punished with a  bus as marginalized mobility of last resort.

Other countries and some cities have proven that transit can flourish. Seattle and Portland come to mind, but also unlikely places like Los Angeles, where strong Mayors and their transportation leaders have created the kind of multi-modal transit system that attracts new riders and allows people to get around with decency. It is a matter of priorities. The future is a cash-free unified ticket (something that has been an option in most European metro areas for at least 20 years) and possibly even free transit. (The arguments around free transit and progressive fare strategies see here and here). If the trip involves a boat or an employer shuttle or a taxi at some point, it shouldn't matter, as long as the rides are coordinated and respond to the same rider need and rider ticket. The rider doesn't care who the provider is but cares about a fast, efficient and reliable trip that goes from where people are to where they want to go.  They want to pay one ticket for all services and they don't want to fumble for money at each transfer nor be held up by others fumbling for money.

In Baltimore, if the candidates for Mayor conclude that a State run transit agency can't be brought to bring optimal service to the central region, they need to realize that the alternative, a local or regional transit authority, won't drop into their lap. It will require a heavy lift in Annapolis.  A condition for any consideration of transferring transit away from MTA is to get tBaltimore's own house in order when it comes to those transportation elements for which Baltimore is already responsible.  Regardless from where the main transit operations are orchestrated, seamless integration of all options will become a must.
The canceled Red Line left a deep hole in
Baltimore's rail transit system (Photo: Philipsen)

Some other solutions have long been debated and are not really new, but they still haven't been done here. For example, subsidizing transit rides the same way as car trips are with their subsidized or free parking.

Imagine making free transit part of an employer perk package instead of free parking! Given transit priority over cars in the management of the available public streets. Giving out transit points instead of "gas points" in the local grocery chains. Giving frequent flyer points to frequent transit users to attract occasional riders to become regular ones. For this to happen transit cannot be kept an insider deal for a shrinking clan of people who don't have a choice. Instead it must be made so good that everybody wants to use it.

The "future of Baltimore's transportation" also demands that leaders need to think about autonomous vehicles, what they would mean for transit and car usage and all the deliveries and how future streets need to be organized so they don't become a nightmare. I have speculated in various articles that transit could change drastically from what it is today once buses and vans can drive themselves.

BC-DOT has a pretty good scooter agreement.
Can they enforce it? (Photo: Philipsen)
Most of all, and that gets us right to the beginning of this article: Transportation in Baltimore has to finally function on its most basic levels. Those responsible for the operations of everything transportation need to become accountable,  outcomes must be measured with measurable metrics and against community based goals that enjoy broad public support.

The future Mayor must dust off the once famous CitiStat, give it a new start in the name of transparency and accountability, and make transportation the shining example for both.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The article is part of a series of articles on this blog which are addressing  addressing issues especially relevant in this upcoming election. See also the stakeholder interviews. 

Alvin Hathaway: A Marshall Plan for Cities! - First of a series of interviews about the upcoming elections

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Alvin Hathaway: A Marshall Plan for Cities! - First of a series of interviews about the upcoming elections

Leading up to the 2020 elections which include, among other posts, the Mayor of Baltimore, City Council President, and the US president, I am writing a series of blog articles about Baltimore's most vexing issues. (See the article about housing here).

To widen the perspective I have asked a number of prominent Baltimore stakeholders about their views about the state of Baltimore, the candidates, their preferences, sentiments, recommendations  and suggestions for what should be done. I will publish the responses over the coming months on this blog.

The first in this series is Reverend Dr. Alvin Hathaway. Dr. Hathaway is active in development around his church in Upton and is involved in a multitude of city issues.

This week he will moderate a forum for Baltimore mayoral candidates organized by the Urban League. The event takes place this Saturday, Jan 25 at Morgan State University's Fine Art Center at 11am.
Rev. Hathaway

Detailed information about Rev. Dr. Hathaway can be found at the end of the interview.

Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr., Senior Pastor
Union Baptist Church


  1. Are you overall optimistic about Baltimore or pessimistic? Why?                               
Alvin Hathaway: I’m optimistic about BALTIMORE because of the many assets we have. (The most prominent are our “Ed’s and Meds) but what’s overlooked is the increased tonnage passing through our Inner Harbor and its economic impact. I’m also optimistic because we are slowly but surely confronting structural racism and public corruption.
  1. What three issues do you suggest should be the top priority of the new Mayor? 
Transparency is the number one in my book. The next administration must function as servants of the people and operate as if the people are at the table observing and participating in every decision they make. Credibility is number two. Government must be inclusive of everyone and equally distribute opportunity to all. Accountability is number three. Government must be brutally honest about the issues and problems we face and the pathway and direction we must take to address them. 
  1. If you were to advise a candidate for Mayor what would be your best suggestion? 
Develop a process of listening to a broad segment, minimize relying on a small set of advisers. 
  1. What should the next US President should do for cities?                                                            
Create a true “Marshall Type plan”. This plan would strategically leverage federal, state, city, foundation, and private funding into a business like plan for urban revitalization and renewal. 
  1. What recent local fact has given you hope for Baltimore?                                                 
The number of graduates from our colleges and universities. 
  1. What recent local fact has depressed you the most?                                                             
The thought that persons can commit murder and not be arrested and prosecuted. 
  1. Do you support a particular candidate for Mayor and for City Council?                           
I’m not supporting any candidate, I’m supporting a citizen based agenda. 
  1. What personal contribution to Baltimore are you most proud of?                                     
My community organizing contributions that led to creating BUILD, Coppin Heights and Harbor Bank.
  1. Any final thought?     
I’m creating a city wide grassroots named Act Now Baltimore to increase citizen participation in civic affairs. 

The Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr. was called to Union Baptist Church as Assistant Pastor in 2004. 

Reverend Hathaway has two earned terminal degrees: Ph. D. in Philosophy of Religion from The North Carolina College of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary. He earned his Masters of Arts in Church Ministries and a Certificate in Urban Ministry from Saint Mary’s Seminary and University. He is a graduate of The Harvard Divinity School’s Summer Leadership Institute.  He has a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from The McKendree School of Religion. 

Rev. Hathaway graduated from Baltimore City College High School. He studied Philosophical Theology at what was then Coppin State College.

Dr. Hathaway is a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Maryland Medical  Center, Family League, The Ecumenical Institute, UrbanAssociates New Market Tax Credits, HarborBankShares New Market Tax Credits, GreenlineVentures New Market Tax Credits, Douglas Memorial Development Corporation, The Greater Baltimore Committee, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Family League. He is the President /CEO of Union Baptist Church – School, Inc. and Beloved Community Services Corporation. He Co-Chairs Promise Heights, a partnership with University of Maryland School of Social to improve outcomes in five Upton Community Schools. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Why affordable housing is scarce in shrinking Baltimore

Crime, transportation and housing are a trifecta of Baltimore's glaring, in your face deficiencies. The City's pathologies frequently go back to one of these three or a tangled combination of them.

Housing is particularly vexing: The ever shrinking Baltimore has tons of surplus housing and yet thousands are homeless. In spite of the oversupply housing cost is too high or income too low so tens of thousands crowd a waiting list for subsidized housing. The number has become so ridiculously large, that the Housing agency simply closed the list, whereby it doesn't matter whether people are clamoring to rent a designated "affordable" low rent unit or are trying to obtain a voucher which makes the rent affordable via subsidies for market rate units. Both are almost unattainable.
Meanwhile luxury housing towers rise, even though the City stubbornly fails to grow.
Luxury apartment tower on Light Street (Photo Philipsen)
The demand for affordable housing in Baltimore, particularly affordable rental housing, is well documented.  More than 3,000 persons are homeless and over twenty percent of all households are annually spending more than half their income on housing.    Most of these severely cost burdened households are poor.  Of the 51,360 households that fall into this category, 92% earn half or less of the area median income (AMI).  75% earn less than one-third of AMI.   For a family of four this is an annual income of less than $27,351.  Two-thirds of the severely cost burdened households earning half or less of AMI are renters.  Much of what is identified as a housing problem in Baltimore is really an income problem. (Baltimore Housing)
Area residents struggle for explanations and those responsible for housing, the Housing agency, split in two by a disgraced Mayor, is trying to solve the problem with more programs than anyone can follow or understand. The programs share one thing: They don't have enough funding.

At times the desire to shed light into the protracted problems sometimes takes curious turns. Last week the Baltimore Business Journal and the SUN reported about a $250,000 Fannie Mae grant to study how to provide housing for the homeless with a focus of school children and housing near schools. This fits nicely with a program called INSPIRE, which stands for Investing in Neighborhoods and Schools to Promote Improvement, Revitalization, and Excellence and has been in place for years. The most recent newsletter published to inform about inspire appeared in February 2018. Little progress was made in stabilizing housing around the Century schools slated for
Luxury mixed use tower on Light Street (Photo Philipsen)
renovation. The question is only, what is it that needs to be studied in this well understood nexus between schools and housing? $250,000 is not much money considering the estimated 3,000 homeless, but assuming that only a part of the homeless had children that needed to attend school, it could be a sizable chunk to provide direct aid instead of yet another study.
The median housing value in the Baltimore-Towson MSA increased 78.9% between 1990 and 2008, after adjusting for inflation. Median gross rent increased 19.2% during the same period. By comparison, after adjusting for inflation. real household income increased only 4.2%. (Housing Report)
Last year an article in the SUN touted Baltimore Housing funds to accommodate 50 homeless in vacant affordable units which the Authority owned. Wait, you would say, how do they have vacant units if there are so many on the wait lists? The answer is sad: There aren't enough funds to keep all public housing units in good repair. As a result ,and in spite of the exorbitant need, they remain empty and uninhabitable. How would putting the homeless into those units help, wouldn't they need to be fixed up for the same cost? The answer: To place the homeless, the Authority could tap into a pool of resources for the reduction of homelessness that was not available for regular renovation. The program started with $500,000, it isn't clear if it was continued and expanded as originally anticipated.
Abandoned rowhouses (Photo Philipsen)

Occasionally legislators also address the housing problem. In that vain and after much public debate the City and the County both implemented legislation that forbids landlords to deny renters based on the use of vouchers. Both jurisdictions watered the already mostly symbolic bills down by exempting small landlords from the prohibition of voucher discrimination. The bill may expand the amount of units available to voucher holders slightly, but it certainly won't relieve the voucher shortage.

More promising: In 2018 Baltimore created an Affordable Housing Trust Fund fueled by transfer taxes. Unless the economy tanks, the fund should gain about $20 million per year. That would generate about 4,000 units in 10 years. By comparison, the wait list was cut off at 14,000 applicants.
Metro Heights, Mondawmin affordable housing (Moseley Architects)

These examples show, that in Baltimore the housing shortage is fought around the margins and in increments not large enough to really make a difference. It feels like fighting ballistic missiles with fly swatters, Baltimore Housing's 2020 Action Plan notwithstanding. This is not to say that the actions in themselves are cheap. They are only small in comparioson to the enormity of the problem. In the last two years Baltimore Housing spent nearly $33 million each year on rehabilitation of the existing affordable inventory. Similar amounts were disbursed for new construction of affordable housing through tax credits, HOME funds and bonds, translating into about 250 new affordable units per year. For 2020 Baltimore Housing plans to assist funding for the construction of 266 units.

On North Avenue new affordable units are going up at Walbrook Lumber site, in downtown a new development on Liberty Street was recently completed, construction begins on the 76 units for Four-Ten Lofts at the corner of Eutaw and Mulberry Streets, new affordable apartments were also completed near the West Baltimore MARC station on Warwick Avenue and near the Metro Station at Mondawmin. All of these developments are well designed and a far cry from the "projects" of old. Yet, they are not enough to turn neighborhoods nor enough to shorten the waitlist.
The L on Liberty Street (Fillat Architects)

The number of new new luxury apartments being built beats the production of affordable units by more than a factor of three. For the 250 new affordable units in 2019 nearly 800 new luxury units went online according to the BBJ.  In a city plagued by high crime, bad transportation, homelessness, an affordable housing shortage and a stubbornly high poverty rate near 1 in 5 households, way above the national average, this is a quite surprising proportion.

Some see this as a sign that the city is on the mend because investors have confidence in spite of crime and lacking transit and affluent people with many choices don't seem to mind city living. Others see this as a sign of an ever larger drift between the "two Baltimores" in which the rich live a happy life while the poor are begging in the streets. The disparate halfs take increasingly place in the same place. Beggars and squeegee kids assemble at the intersections right below glitzy new apartment towers and crime is no longer contained to Baltimore's ghettos.

The luxury buildings finished last year are prominent on the skyline and include One Light, the Liberty in Harbor East, Bainbridge at Federal Hill and the Anthem House in Locust Point. 414 Light Street, the tallest residential tower in the City is the most visible exponent of the luxury apartment wave and gives the appearance as all is fine with Baltimore.
Liberty tower Harbor East (Bozzutto)

Baltimore's housing situation has been well studied. For example in a 2012 regional report about access to affordable housing. Over the decades Baltimore has received large and small federal funding to remedy its housing. Nothing reverted the trends of shrinkage combined with an ever larger deficit of affordable housing. In fact, the large federal grants which came under the name of HOPE VI turned thousands of affordable units into the dust that remained of the infamous public housing highrises ringing downtown. New construction never matched the lost affordable public units. Even new funding for projects like Perkins Homes and Somerset don't add affordable housing. That they intend to fully replace demolished affordable units one for one is now considered progress. This will be achieved through increased density, mixing affordable units up with market rate housing.

In an election year the housing issue rises to special importance, especially for the Baltimore Mayor race and the presidential race. It is important to remember that Baltimore's housing problem isn't unique. Cities across the United States experience affordable housing shortages, growing segments of luxury housing and record numbers of homeless, whether they are growing or shrinking.
New affordable housing on Eutaw and Mulberry Streets (Moseley Architects)

In fact, the housing crisis is too large for the individual cities to solve it without significant federal aid. The response to the housing crisis must be multi-prong and include at least the following elements:
  1. increase in affordable housing production through increase of available low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC
  2. increase in available housing vouchers (HCVP) through HUD
  3. increase in the production of affordable units through inclusionary zoning and benefits agreements
  4. decrease in the demolition or re-purposing of existing affordable housing
  5. increase in assistance for low income home-owners so they can maintain their property
  6. increase in renter assistance for renters in danger of eviction
While items 1 and 2 require significant amounts of money, items 3-6 either come without cost to public coffers, or the benefits far outweigh initial cost. For example:
  • in Baltimore multi-familiy housing over 20 units receives a 10 year tax credit program regardless whether they are luxury, market rate or low income. Those tax credits should only be given if developers provide a certain percentage of affordable housing units
  • Baltimore still sees transfer of affordable housing into market rate housing or outright demolition of affordable housing without replacement. A policy of no net loss needs to be implemented through incentives and regulation
  • Many low income homeowners struggle to keep the dwelling units or houses in decent shape due to a lack of equity and loans, a condition that is largely a result of past redlining and the artificially low value of real estate in formerly redlined areas. Modest amounts of money would help those homeowners with repairs and prevent their homes to be become vacant and allow owners to stay healthier
  • Many low income renters are one paycheck away from eviction and homelessness. Aside from social justice issues, stable housing is key for reducing health care cost, achieve better education and allow residents to obtain or hold a job.  Small bridge loans allowing renters to stay in their dwellings would see huge paybacks. Renter protections need to be strengthened as well.
Four Seasons condo tower, Harbor East (Photo: Philipsen)
Neither federal aid nor decisive local housing programs are in sight though, unless the upcoming elections provide the necessary policy change.

On the federal level, presidential candidate Elisabeth Warren has one of the most comprehensive housing plans, suggesting to invest $500 billion in ten years, mostly by increasing construction of affordable housing. Booker, Harris and Castro, who also spoke about reparations to make up for the giant amount of wealth taken from African Americans through redlining, have since dropped out of the race.  Housing had briefly been such a hot topic in the presidential debate that CityLab had asked whether housing would be a decisive factor in the election.  Since then, foreign policy and impeachment have overshadowed housing on the national stage.

In Baltimore the indictment of the Mayor and rampant crime have blotted out any other topic. It is time to ask the candidates about their housing plans. Especially since housing, crime and transportation are all entangled.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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