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Baltimore-Area Jurisdictions Finalize Fair Housing Plan Despite Federal Rule Change

Housing

In the midst of a national reckoning over racial injustice, BMC member jurisdictions have finalized a new analysis and plan to address housing-related disparities by race and other characteristics protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. The study documents significant disparities in homeownership, housing cost burden, and access to affordable rental housing and high-performing public schools, while detailing specific actions local jurisdictions and the region can take to address those disparities. The new regional fair housing plan is being released despite the federal administration’s recent announcement that it is removing the requirement that local jurisdictions receiving federal housing funding develop plans to address and ameliorate policies that lead to disparate housing impacts for protected classes.

“Every family deserves to have a place to call home where they can access quality educational and career opportunities — where they can achieve their hopes and dreams for their families,” said Johnny Olszewski, Baltimore County Executive and BMC Board Chair. “I’m proud of my partners in local government for coming together to chart a course to provide more equitable housing options for families across our region.”

Participating jurisdictions included the Cities of Annapolis and Baltimore along with Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, and Howard Counties and the public housing authorities (PHAs) that serve them. The local governments and PHAs were assisted by BMC and consultants Root Policy Research and International Development and Planning.

“At a time when our whole nation is confronting persistent racial injustice, our region, with the support of BMC, has taken the lead in addressing inequities in housing,” said Steuart Pittman, Anne Arundel County Executive, whose housing agency chaired BMC’s Regional Fair Housing Group through much of the plan development process. “These inequities affect so much, whether it is where our children attend school or our probability of experiencing poverty and trauma.”

This plan marks the third time Baltimore-area jurisdictions and housing authorities have come together voluntarily to address these issues. “Together we are emphasizing the need to both invest in our older, urban and inner ring suburban communities, and to create affordable housing options in high opportunity areas,” said Amy Wilkinson, Executive Vice President for Fair Housing at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, who took over as chair of the Regional Fair Housing Group in July.

The new 2020 document, known as an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, took nearly two years to develop and involved a robust stakeholder engagement process to identify fair housing issues, analyze data and recommend solutions. “This process brought together a unique set of stakeholders from around the region to confront disparities that hold our region and our country back,” said Cleveland Horton, Deputy Director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights who chaired the AI Stakeholder Work Group. “Now the true test will be implementing these action steps over the coming five years.”

Key regional action steps over the coming five years include:

  • Facilitating the development of 2,300 units of affordable housing over the next five years, including 1500 units for families, located in safe communities with access to high quality schools, and the other 800 contributing to comprehensive revitalization plans to bring opportunity to more struggling communities. Many of these units will be accessible to people with disabilities, as well.
  • Regional support for transformational investments in areas of racially concentrated poverty and other areas in need of reinvestment.
  • Supporting effective enforcement of Maryland’s new law that prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income, so people can live wherever their own means and assistance makes it financially possible. Baltimore-area jurisdictions will coordinate support for the new Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, which seeks to provide effective private-sector enforcement of fair housing laws.
  • Engage lenders in tackling persistent mortgage and homeownership racial disparities in the region that were highlighted in this fair housing analysis.

In addition, local governments will take action in their own jurisdictions that will help facilitate racial and economic integration and address housing-related wealth disparities. As a small sample of those steps:

  • Anne Arundel County will invest in the creation of affordable and accessible rental homes in Communities of Opportunity, especially in transit zones, and will also work to establish inclusionary housing policies and laws.
  • City of Annapolis will develop a policy regarding Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and explore other incentives to encourage affordable housing construction in the next three years.
  • Baltimore City will create 1,250 new rental units over five years, at least half in opportunity areas and the remainder as part of transformational revitalization or in gentrifying areas.
  • Baltimore County will expand incentives for property owners and investors to build new apartment buildings or substantially rehabilitate existing buildings for occupancy by lower-income families in areas of opportunity.
  • Harford County will continue to foster opportunities for homeownership throughout the County including housing counseling and down payment assistance for first time homebuyers.
  • Howard County will invest in older communities to support revitalization, preserve affordable housing, and promote mobility for housing choice voucher clients through counseling and payment standards.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race in 1968, but before then the federal government often actively promoted racial segregation, most notably through New Deal “redlining” maps that guided government policy for decades afterward. That policy subsidized wealth-building home construction and mortgages overwhelmingly in communities restricted to white residents, while discouraging investments in racially integrated communities and communities of color. As a result, Congress in 1968 required the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its grantees to “affirmatively further” the goals of the law, working to undo the damage of past policies. Baltimore-area jurisdictions have voluntarily coordinated to prepare these analyses regionally since 1996.

The full document and appendices can be found here.