Baltimore’s central paradox is this: there are 30,000 vacant properties while 42 percent of residents earn $25,000 a year or less and struggle to find decent affordable housing. Outsiders are often struck by the number of vacant houses they see as they pass through Baltimore on a train. Insiders too are also struck by the way in which these vacant houses contribute to more crime, underfunded schools, poor health, and lost neighborhood stability and property tax base. Citizens and government alike should see these vacant houses as assets and seize their potential as a huge opportunity.
This opportunity can be realized through the creation of Affordable Development Districts. Through the revision of existing laws, these districts would require small subsidies for developers to complete homes that would be paid for by incremental increases in tax revenue from new owners. The subsidy would only be available to developers who make houses available for homeownership and who sell homes to buyers below the Area Median Income.
This and other ideas like it are part of the Outer Harbor Initiative. The Outer Harbor Initiative is a plan to catalyze development in neighborhoods that are just beyond successfully developed “Harbor” neighborhoods like Fells Point, Federal Hill, Canton, Patterson Park, and Locust Point. While these are literally associated with the successful Inner Harbor, they are – more importantly – areas of strength. Other examples of Outer Harbor neighborhoods in concept include Better Waverly next to Charles Village and Pen Lucy adjacent to Guilford. Outer Harbor neighborhoods surround strong neighborhoods and build from their strength. The only way for Baltimore to overcome its paradox is to make its assets positive and ensure its residents can prosper from them.