Shortly before his colleagues considered advancing a pair of bills designed to increase the city’s supply of affordable housing Monday evening, City Council President Nick Mosby stood outside Baltimore City Hall with a black baseball cap in one hand.
“No cap!” He chanted along with the small crowd assembled on either side of the podium, raising and waving the hat in the air.
The mantra signaled his opposition to an amendment put forward by City Councilman James Torrence, who suggested “capping” the number of affordable units to 400 before cutting off the availability of a tax credit that could offset the cost of creating those units. The amendment would have limited a mandate that developers include a percentage of affordable units if the housing project exceeds a certain value or size — a policy known as inclusionary housing.
Torrence’s amendment, which he said would satisfy concerns voiced last week by Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration about the city’s ability to pay for the tax credit, failed on a narrow vote of 8-6 with one abstention. And the housing bill package, which includes the tax credit provision, advanced to third reader, setting it up for a final vote as early as next month.
Though the mayor has publicly spoken of his support for inclusionary housing — even making a brief appearance at the Monday evening rally — he said last week that the bills would need to be significantly refined prior to reaching his desk. He alluded to that tension Monday, saying while he and his administration “wholeheartedly” support the vision of inclusive housing, “there are a lot of conversations ... we know will have to be had as we operationalize this bill.”
Still, representatives from his office said Monday night that he supports the measure moving forward.
Housing policy experts say inclusive mandates can help unravel generations of racist practices that segregated neighborhoods along lines of race and class. Integrating communities also has social and economic benefits for residents and can give more people better access to transit, food, health care and schools. The considerations come as jurisdictions across the country race to put forth solutions to dueling housing affordability and supply challenges; Anne Arundel County also was scheduled to hold a bill hearing Monday night about an inclusionary housing policy championed by County Executive Steuart Pittman.
“This is only the start of a necessary road that we must travel to fight for our communities and the individuals in need of housing,” said NaShona Kess, vice president of the Baltimore NAACP chapter, said during Monday’s rally. “The way it stands, affordable housing units are in de facto segregated communities. But one of the ways that we can truly break down historical segregation is through inclusionary housing.”
Critics of the policy say market-rate house prices in places with inclusionary requirements have risen, exacerbating the affordability problem. And the requirements can cause developers to choose different types of projects or rethink investing in certain areas.
A city-based inclusionary housing policy, long criticized as too flimsy, expired in 2022. Over 17 years, it produced less than three dozen moderately priced units, according to the city.
Here are some key provisions of the two bills that advanced Monday:
Deeper affordability: With an amendment put forth by Mosby, the percentage of affordable units required to be made more affordable would remain at 10%, with 5% designated for people earning 60% of the Baltimore area median income and 5% for people earning 50% or below of the area median income.
Study plan: City Councilwoman Odette Ramos, the architect of the two bills, introduced an amendment that would call for a study of the policy’s effectiveness to be presented to the council 120 days after the completion of the first 200 affordable units, to be conducted by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the nine-member Inclusionary Housing Board created by the bill. The City Council would then have 60 days for hearings and recommendations for changes. Mosby said the first 200 units could come online within 1 1/2 years under current construction projections.
Exemptions: Dormitories, residential care facilities, fraternities and sororities and student housing would be exempt from following the inclusionary mandate. The inclusionary unit count also does not include penthouses, large apartments, and the highest-rent units in multifamily buildings.