Half an hour before the Baltimore City Council’s August 21 meeting, a crowd of more than 30 people gathered outside City Hall.
Tisha Guthrie, an organizer with Baltimore Renters United, stood with other residents, organizers, and union members. Among them were District 14 Councilperson Odette Ramos and City Council President Nick Mosby.
The group represented the Baltimore Inclusionary Housing Coalition, and they were calling for a vote on a bill that would require affordable housing units to be created in certain residential projects.
Guthrie led the crowd in chants throughout the rally: “More than a housing crisis, this is a human crisis!” “Housing is a human right! Fight, fight, fight!”
Council Bill 22-0195 is one of the two bills the coalition is advocating for.
It would “eliminate the loopholes and waivers in the prior inclusionary housing law that made it a failure,” according to a webpage by the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City, a member of the coalition. The bill would require developers to set aside 10 percent of units as affordable housing in residential projects that receive city funding or rezoning and have greater than 20 units.
“‘Affordable’ means that a household earning less than 60% of Area Median Income (about $55,740 for a family of two) would pay rent that is no more than 30% of their income,” the website stated.
Courtney Jenkins, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO, said that with the average cost of rent in the city being $1,200 a month, renters are paying around $15,000 a year on housing.
Since 54 percent of Baltimoreans make less than $60,000 annually, the price tag of housing is at least a quarter of their salary, if not more, he said. The National Equity Analysis estimates that more than 20,000 households in Baltimore City are behind on rent.
“When we talk about living wages, we must couple that with what those wages afford us, and that includes the human right to adequate housing,” Jenkins said. “Unfortunately, lack of access to affordable housing and an overabundance of inadequate housing is not a new thing to working people, especially working people of color.”
There have been five hearings and 30 amendments to CB 22-0195 since its introduction in February 2022, Ramos, a sponsor of the bill, said in an interview. And yet it has not been brought before the full council for a vote. The coalition says this final step is long overdue.
“I think any other amendments are active[ly] delaying this even further,” said Loraine Arikat, a member of the 1199SEIU Maryland/DC division, a union that represents healthcare workers.
The law grants a six-month grace period before it goes into effect, Ramos said. That buffer gives time to gather advisory board appointees.
But, of course, that period doesn’t begin until the law is passed, and in the meantime, housing rates will remain unattainable for that portion of Baltimore’s residents, which coalition members say has been going on far too long.
“We cannot continue to make the poor homeless,” said Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the Historic Sharp Leadenhall Community Association. “We cannot continue to have families not have decent shelter. We cannot continue not to have access to affordable food. We cannot continue to accept this as a people.”
The last inclusionary housing policy was passed in 2007 and expired in June 2022, according to an inclusionary housing study commissioned by the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development and completed by Enterprise Community Partners.
That policy, however, only led to the development of 34 affordable housing units due to loopholes and waivers, Mosby said.
“It’s shameful,” he said. “And we’re here to say that that’s wrong, and we’re here to do better.”
Mosby said CB 22-0195 must create as many inclusionary housing units as possible across the whole city.
“No matter your ZIP code, your socioeconomic status, new buildings — new quality buildings with affordable units — should be able to be available to you,” he told the crowd. “You should have quality development in communities that you’re most comfortable with, that you have cultural competency with, and that you wanna grow and stay growing in age in.”
In the last few years, Mosby has found himself at odds with local housing activists. In late 2021, he introduced a legislative package titled “House Baltimore,” which aimed to provide low-income residents with opportunities to buy and rehabilitate existing Baltimore homes. It wasn’t well received, and Mosby apologized after a hearing to discuss the bill ended in chaos.
Ramos said she understands activists’ impatience but wants the bill to be done right. Though she said the bill has support from the Council, there is not a date set for the vote. To this, a collective “aw” of disappointment came from the crowd.
CB 22-0195 will create an advisory board that must approve the developers’ plans before they can move forward in obtaining a permit, according to Ramos. She said the advisory board will ensure the enforcement of the program.
Members will be appointed by Mayor Brandon Scott, according to Matt Hill, an attorney for the Public Justice Center, a legal advocacy group and coalition member.
The coalition will likely make recommendations for the board to the mayor, Hill said.
Additionally, Ramos said that developers would not receive their subsidy until after completing the reporting procedures required by the bill.
“We think there might be too much subsidy going to the developers,” she said.
Another bill, CB 23-0369, is coupled with the inclusionary housing policy that would create a high-performance inclusionary housing tax credit.
The tax credit would give eligible property owners a 15 percent abatement of city property tax.
There are more than 20 organizations in the coalition, Arikat said. It has been working on the inclusionary housing bill since before the lapse of the 2007 policy.
“The fact that we down here and we asking for this is sad,” said Dámel Ross, a member of the city’s Office of Homeless Services’s Continuum of Care Youth Action Board. “It’s really sad. We deserve this. We worked hard for this.”
While the crowd agreed, they were still energized. There was familial chatter as they checked in on one another.
“We have become a family, and though we love one another, I think we would rather be gathering for other purposes,” Guthrie said. “So hopefully, the next time we gather, it’ll be celebratory.”