Ahead of what some Maryland political insiders have begun referring to as the state’s first “housing session” in more than a decade, Gov. Wes Moore released the details Tuesday evening of a three-pronged agenda that he will support over the coming 90-day General Assembly legislative session.
The housing package encourages lawmakers to take action in the face of what the governor’s office referred to as a deficit of nearly 100,000 units. It includes items related to increased funding and reduced barriers for housing production as well as strengthened protections for renters, according to a copy of the nine-page memo from the governor’s office reviewed by The Baltimore Banner.
“This holistic package addresses the housing crisis through an ‘all-hands on deck’ approach,” the memo states. “This package recognizes the broad reforms needed throughout the housing continuum — from how housing is financed to where and how it’s built to the protections afforded to those who live in it.”
Two of the three proposals — the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act of 2024 and the Housing and Community Development Financing Act of 2024 — seek to incentivize building and development and pull in more resources from the federal government.
The Renters Rights and Housing Stabilization Act of 2024 offers a range of proposals aimed at providing more safeguards to some of Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens and slowing down the pace of evictions, which have rebounded to levels not seen since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers, while expected to review thousands of bills in the coming weeks, will face extra pressure this year to act on housing. Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Jacob R. Day has dubbed the state’s supply and affordability challenges a full-scale “crisis.”
Notably, the package does not contain expanded funding for emergency rental assistance — a proposal favored by some housing justice advocates and nonprofit organization leaders who called on the governor last month to include it in the package.
Day said his agency has incorporated feedback from “stakeholder” into the proposals.
“We don’t anticipate any surprises and have had many discussions to alleviate concerns and ensure an accurate understanding of why we need action to make a difference on the 96,000 unit housing shortage in the state,” he said.
But while Day cites work building support for the bills, getting them through the General Assembly will not necessarily be easy. Housing policies and development frequently spark bitter political fights. Local housing legislation has had mixed success over the past year as county lawmakers across and within political parties hash out the details surrounding everything from rent control to inclusionary zoning to measures that would give developers more incentives.
Overriding local housing restrictions
The Housing Expansion and Affordability Act would grant density bonuses — more square footage or height than would otherwise be allowed in some zoning codes — to certain projects, including those within a mile of passenger rail stations or housed on historic, state-owned land, or owned by nonprofit organizations that commit to offering half the units at affordable levels.
“The state currently blocks local authority to develop certain agricultural and environmentally-sensitive areas,” the memo states, “but we do not incentivize development in areas where building is more desirable.”
Among the most ambitious parts of the package, the housing expansion act also would limit a locality’s power to deny a building permit or limit the impact of a development based on an adequate public facility ordinance, a tool that controls growth and crowding in counties and municipalities across the state. The exemption would “sunset,” or expire, after 15 years, at the request of the Maryland Association of Counties, a lobbying group that represents the state’s 24 jurisdictions, according to the memo.
Manufactured homes — sometimes referred to as mobile homes — also would be permitted in areas zoned for single-family uses under the housing expansion act. These prefabricated homes, which are largely assembled off-site in factories and then built and transported on a permanent frame, would be at minimum eight feet wide and 40 feet long on 320 or more square feet. As construction and materials’ costs continue to soar, manufactured housing has gained traction around the U.S. as an alternative to on-site builds.
The memo makes mention of setting a “reasonable expectation” on the number of public hearings provided to projects. But it does not offer further guidance on what those standards should be.
Financing new housing
The state is proposing creating a new public body that would make loans or investments to community development initiatives in Maryland.
The so-called Maryland Community Investment Corp. would be certified by the U.S. Treasury Department, according to the memo, and would receive funding from the New Market Tax Credit, a federal credit given to qualified applicants and authorized by the U.S. Congress. The memo suggests that the New Market Tax Credit can subsidize up to 20% of a project’s capital needs, usually in the form of low-interest, forgivable debt.
The tax credits can be sold to investors with federal income tax liabilities. The money from from those sales can be used to make investments in qualified low-income communities. Of the awards, 20% would be required to go to rural areas.
The Housing and Community Development Financing Act of 2024 proposes creating an entity that would be managed by a board of directors. Members would include the state’s comptroller, housing secretary, commerce secretary and two governor-appointed members.
This act also would expand the costs for which a grant or loan could be issued to a local government or community development organization working on projects related to growth or demolition.
Added protections for renters
Under this part of the package, the state proposes establishing an Office of Tenant Rights to take the lead on advocating, informing, representing and serving as an ombudsman for Maryland renters. The office would be tasked with creating a “Tenants Bill of Rights” that would be provided to all tenants as an addendum to their lease. While it would not create new rights for renters, it would ensure all tenants have access to their existing rights in plain language as well as contact information for the office.
Renters also would be given new pathways to purchase their homes with a “right of first refusal” option, which creates a timeline for tenants in single-family and middle housing to purchase the property they live in if it’s put up for sale. A similar ordinance exists in Baltimore and was resuscitated last year after being watered down several years earlier.
The renters rights act would block tenants from having to pay the eviction filing fee in some cases and would raise the total cost of evictions from $15 to $100 in an effort to dissuade more filings. The state could use half the increased funds to help tenants access legal services in eviction cases and the other half to fund a new rental voucher program that passed the General Assembly last year.
Under the renters act, the allowable security deposit fee would be reduced from two month’s rent to one month’s rent and would bar evictions in “extreme weather or other dangerous conditions,” including temperatures below freezing, winter weather events, hurricanes and tropical storms, excessive heat warnings and public health emergencies.
The bill would also require more reporting of eviction data.
This story has been updated to correct Housing Secretary Jacob R. Day's comments on expected opposition to the housing bills.