The Anne Arundel County Council, on a narrow 4-3 margin, voted down Monday a bill designed to add more reduced-priced housing units to the county’s supply.

The deciding vote ultimately went to County Councilwoman Allison Pickard, a Democrat who considers housing a pet issue. After weeks of debate and hours of testimony heard about the bill, Pickard said she voted with her conscience and joined the council’s Republican minority in rejecting the bill.

“I’m looking for results that will give us the biggest impact and the most housing opportunities for our families,” Pickard said during Monday night’s County Council meeting. “I’m disappointed that this is where we are with this bill.”

Spearheaded by County Executive Steuart Pittman’s administration, the so-called Essential Worker Housing Access Act closely mirrored a similar ordinance that passed in the Baltimore City Council earlier this month. Known as inclusionary housing, the mandate would have compelled all new developments exceeding a certain size to reserve a portion of the units for households making below the Baltimore-area median income, which amounts to about $82,875 for an individual and $118,313 for a family of four, according to the county’s sliding scale. In exchange, Anne Arundel County would have waived one-time “impact” fees and reduced water and sewer connection costs by half. It also would have allowed developers to build more units than what the current zoning code allows.

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But Pickard, who has raised questions about the bill since it was introduced in the fall, said she feared the legislation would not amount to much given the county’s low building rate. Monday, she also noted that some jurisdictions, including Baltimore, have provided tax incentives to developers, a step Anne Arundel did not take. She said she would support a countywide affordable housing and land use analysis that would review ways to encourage more growth in the county instead.

In a statement after the vote, Pittman hit back, calling the bill’s failure a “slap in the face” to the county’s workforce that can no longer afford to live where they work and an “unnecessary step backwards.” He noted the bill’s widespread support among labor organizations, civil rights groups, churches and community groups and affordable housing advocates who had supported the measure amid a “housing crisis” in Maryland — which is seeing a shortfall of units as well as too few specifically for low-income households.

Pittman, a second-term Democrat who this year received the Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition’s leadership award, also pledged to pursue the council’s support of a ban on campaign finance donations from developers with applications pending — an authorization he won from the state legislature in 2019 but has not yet brought to the council to consider. He cited developers’ influence, instead of Pickard’s resistance, as the driver behind the bill’s failure.

“The aggressive campaign by real estate developers to kill this inclusionary housing bill was in my view short-sighted, but, unfortunately, very effective. Their generous campaign contributions and well-targeted lobbying were as effective today as they were 20 years ago,” Pittman said in the statement, referring to a similar 2004 effort to pass an inclusionary housing bill that fell short despite having enough votes to pass. In that instance, a key council member left the chambers early and could not weigh in, effectively killing the bill.

Housing policy experts say inclusive housing mandates can help unravel generations of racist practices that segregated neighborhoods. Integrating communities also has social and economic benefits for residents of all incomes and can give more people better access to transit, food, health care and schools, they say. It’s one of many tools being heavily debated in Maryland ahead of the 2024 legislative session, which is expected to take on several housing-related proposals in response to the state’s challenges with affordability and supply.

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In Baltimore’s case, two bills went before the City Council, including a tax credit incentive bill that offsets the cost of the more affordable units. Despite objections from the city’s Department of Finance and senior members of his administration, the bill package ultimately won the support of Mayor Brandon Scott, who is seeking a second term in 2024.

Pittman, who has championed several other housing proposals during his tenure, said he would seek alternative measures that would encourage more affordable housing within the county’s borders. “It’s what our businesses need for their employees,” he said, “and it’s the right thing to do.”

This article may be updated.

Hallie Miller is a reporter at The Baltimore Banner, where she hopes to dive deep into the city's communities and highlight solutions. She is passionate about engaging readers and using new tools to tell stories. Hallie spent four years at The Baltimore Sun, where she helped lead the organization's medical coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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