A lot of “first-evers” have happened under our administration. From creating Baltimore County’s first free, locally operated Towson Loop transit service, to opening up our government’s budget process like never before, we continue to reimagine how government can be an engine of progress, helping every resident in every ZIP code reach their full potential.

That work also extends into the ongoing imperative to make sure that every family can find a safe, affordable place to call home.

Housing — truly attainable housing — remains one of the biggest barriers to the long-term success of some Baltimore County residents and communities. That’s because a home is much more than just four walls and a roof. Our houses, condos and apartments are now the offices in which we use to work remotely, the incubators for our passion projects, and the places where we connect with our neighbors and our families. They are places intertwined with where we work, study, shop, play and more.

For far too long, Baltimore County failed to live up to our potential. Decades of shortsighted and racially motivated policies, such as historic redlining practices, separated our neighbors and neighborhoods in ways that are still painfully visible today. Even where housing has been built, financial barriers have too often kept families on the outside looking in. In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout have pushed rent and home prices further out of reach for too many, adding yet another barrier during an already uncertain time.

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Since taking office, we have made it a priority to begin addressing these historic and systemic challenges. That was why we passed the HOME Act to end housing discrimination by source of income, paving the way for statewide passage of similar legislation. We established the county’s first Department of Housing and Community Development to protect our neighbors and foster inclusive communities and did so in the midst of the global pandemic.

We implemented award-winning eviction-prevention programs, and we passed a package of housing reforms that, among other vital efforts, established a Housing Opportunities Fund and modernized townhome construction guidelines. These reforms are also making it easier than ever for Baltimore County to identify and transform today’s blighted, vacant properties into tomorrow’s homeownership opportunities.

As we move forward, we are thinking even more broadly to truly meet the housing needs of all our residents by embracing the private sector’s ability to help shape the future of the housing continuum. In partnership with P. David Bramble and MCB Real Estate, we recently announced the largest attainable housing deal in Baltimore County’s history.

Under this agreement — the first deal made utilizing that new Housing Opportunities Fund — MCB is acquiring existing properties and preserving more than 50% of those units for attainable housing for working families. By making significant upgrades and improvements to existing sites, we will be raising the standard of living for current and new residents alike, while avoiding the additional time and cost required by new construction.

Equally important, these units will be preserved at affordable rates for up to 40 years, helping protect residents from a sudden rent increase or an unjust eviction, and further strengthening safe, modern, and affordable housing opportunities for generations to come. At the same time, this deal accelerates our progress in meeting our legal and moral housing goals. In short: It makes sure many of our neighbors who already live here can stay here, grow their families here and achieve their dreams here.

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Now, as we approach the end of Fair Housing Month, we also celebrate the final approval of this innovative deal by the County Council. This is not only another first-ever for our administration. It is a blueprint for an inclusive, innovative and expeditious model for attainable housing. It is not only affordable but also high-quality construction, with access to valuable public services: the schools, parks and job opportunities all neighborhoods need to thrive.

These efforts are increasingly vital because Baltimore County is running out of time — and out of space. More than a half century after we became one of the nation’s earliest adopters of smart growth with the creation of the Urban Rural Demarcation Line, our communities are now largely built out, and our neighborhoods are rapidly aging. At the same time, the Baltimore region faces a major housing shortage, with more than 90,000 new units needed.

We cannot afford to sacrifice the environmental protections and infrastructure investments that have made Baltimore County the place we cherish. We should instead build on Baltimore County’s legacy of sustainable smart growth.

That is why we recently came together with members of the County Council to pass new legislation to encourage economic revitalization by creating opportunities for mixed-use developments in aging communities. We encourage the county to use this opportunity and act with urgency to help cultivate well-considered and transit- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods in the years to come.

To rise above the past and better meet the needs of our families, we must continue to take deliberate steps to transform Baltimore County into a model of inclusive redevelopment and growth. We are already proving such progress is possible.

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Sustaining it in the months and years ahead will require creativity, flexibility, collaboration and, as we already have seen, a few fights along the way. But these are the fights worth taking on. Let’s keep going.

John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. is Baltimore County executive and a candidate to represent Maryland’s 2nd District in Congress.

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