Novelist, essayist and social and cultural critic James Baldwin once said, “It’s hard to believe what you say, because I see what you do.” In my role as a faith leader, I believe it is my responsibility to speak truth to power. The importance of affordable housing rarely gets the attention it deserves from city leaders, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby.
A recent Goucher College poll found that 74% of Baltimore residents identified the lack of affordable housing as the third-most pressing issue in the city (just behind crime and illegal dumping). Meanwhile, CB 22-0195, the Inclusionary Housing for Baltimore City bill, has languished in the City Council for 20 months. While Scott and Mosby have expressed support for the bill, it still hasn’t been put up for a vote.
If passed, the measure is projected to create an additional 1,000 affordable homes during the next 10 years in more diverse communities. The bill would require that if a new development project with 20 or more rental housing units receives a public subsidy or special zoning change, the developer must set aside 10% to 15% of those units at an affordable rent.
Consider that the city continues to deliver tens of millions of dollars, time and time again, to boost rental housing development for more affluent residents in mostly white neighborhoods, while parks, rowhouses, streets and basic services in largely Black neighborhoods continue to decline.
At the same time, other cities have approved inclusionary housing laws to ensure that if developers get a special subsidy or zoning change, they have to provide a truly public benefit: affordable housing.
When it comes to offering a helping hand to those who need it the least, rarely is there any debate. But when the opportunity arises to assist working families and those living on the margins, the leadership disappears behind jargon and rhetoric. As one who believes in justice for all, I urge the city’s leaders to move the policies that simply allow the excluded to become part of the included.
We can’t continue to give away our city to developers and refuse to demand even a minimal public benefit by including affordable housing along with the shiny skyscrapers. Now is the time for leadership to hold true to what they promised voters while on the campaign trail. And it’s also time city voters begin to demand more of our leaders, especially those who subscribe to the notion that “to whom much is given, much is required.”
Kevin Slayton, Baltimore