The data we have on this current development is this: Harbor Point developers are proposing a 1 billion dollar price tag and expecting 107 million dollars in public assistance (in the form of tax increment financing, TIFs) to build an office tower for Exelon, housing, and a park subsidized by the city (another 21 million). Payment of property taxes back to the city would not begin until 2025. The promise from the developer is that the Harbor Point project would benefit the pockets of poverty nearby. Nearby is the Middle-East/Perkins Home Community with some of the worst social and economic indicators across Baltimore city. Demogra.Perk.Balt At the first public hearing on this proposed public subsidy, residents from nearby Perkins Home testified that the past developments in the Harbor-Inner Harbor and Harbor East- are not accessible to them because “we can’t afford the $6.00 ice cream cones sold there?”. They wanted to know how this proposed development would be one that was accessible to them and from which they could benefit.Would these majority African American people be able to walk the sidewalks of this new development without scrutiny by police on segways or tourists. Or will it be another addition to the growing gentrification of Baltimore city with walls of police and manicured parks separating the rich and the poor? Would there be jobs with living wages which offer apprenticeship training and a career ladder out of poverty? Would there be affordable housing for low-income people? Would there be amenities priced for people of all incomes or would the pricing select out those who are welcomed to the new development? And would there be appropriate vocational and job readiness and treatment programs addressing all the social and health determinants of unemployment, homelessness and risk of homelessness, and poverty?
Will the new mixed-income housing which the developer promises will have teachers as neighbors of the wealthy be the extent of affordable housing? In the past years low-income housing has been conveniently replaced by work-force housing-targeting teachers, firewomen and others- affordable to a different income level than that of a family of 3 living on $19,000/year-considered poverty-level income by the US Federal Register. Will Harbor Point include housing to accommodate a family of 3 living on $19,000 per year? To this end will there be amendments to the Harbor Point tax incentive legislation requiring a percentage of housing accommodate this low-income population? The need for low-income housing is urgent as Baltimore continues to demolish existing very low-income and public housing in East Baltimore for gentrification projects (Johns Hopkins/East Baltimore Development Inc; Jefferson Luxury Apartments at Wolfe and Fayette; Brentwood Village). A report by Joan Jacobson in 2007 showed a 15-year period of decrease (42%) in occupied public housing in Baltimore city with little concrete plans for replacement. Housing Report Meanwhile the percent of female single headed households have increased over this same period.
The developer also promised 6000 new jobs from the Harbor Point development. Sounds familiar? Remember that 8000-job promise from the Johns Hopkins/EBDI project which delivered approximately 1000 in 12 years? Again, what will the city council legislate to hold this private developer accountable to the public subsidies that could otherwise be spent on recreation centers and parks in neighborhoods affected by closed recreation centers and firehouses and unkept parks? Instead this project is proposing subsidy for a park; similar to the public subsidy for the 7 acre park in the Hopkins/EBDI development.
Strategies for change
The promise to benefit the surrounding community by the developer for Harbor Point must be legally binding and specify strategies to address readying a workforce to access employment offered by the development. If the plan is to benefit the unemployed then the social and health determinants that lead to unemployment must be identified and remedied. Those unprepared to enter the workforce must be prepared; those addicted to drugs and alcohol or affected by mental illness must be offered opportunity for treatment and retraining. A comprehensive community development project must include programs and processes identified through Health and Environmental Impact Assessments implemented during the planning phase to prepare the local community to benefit from employment opportunity and determine the effect of building on a buried and capped chromium hazardous waste site. “Chromium testimony at July 16 Harbor Point public hearing”>
The patterns are stark as we continue to watch our public dollars subsidize the wealth of the powerful 10% while the gap between the rich and the poor grow. This continued trend of growing income inequality, racial and spatial segregation and its correlation with unstable economies continue to be documented both nationally and internationally. (Residential Segregation, Spatial Mismatch and Economic Growth across US Metropolitan Areas. Urban Studies. March 1, 2013 Urban Stud-2013) A growing body of evidence proposes improving these social inequities to improve rapid economic growth. It is time for Baltimore elected representatives and appointed government officials to stop corrupt and uninformed practices that continue to marginalize people of low-income and color by giving the ‘right of the city’ to a majority white and middle and wealthy class. A community reinvestment contract or community benefits agreement could target funds to the surrounding community to assess and address its needs. Unlike the failed promises of the Hopkins/EBDI project of ‘channeling 3 percent of any city bonds and other eligible public funds and up to 2 percent of income from commercial leases in the [biotech] park, along with a percentage of the money from the sale of any land to developers, into community reinvestment projects’ to benefit the surrounding community, a legally binding contract must be enacted to assure fulfillment. (Baltimore Sun, 16 April 2002)
Inequality leads to social tension and political instability, thus lowering certainty, investment, and economic growth. (Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press. Been Down So Long: Weak Market Cities and Regional Equity. (2008) Been_Down_So_Long. Therefore social and economic subsidies which address the causes of social tension, income inequality and its causes, should be as primary as tax subsidies to the wealthy to incentivize economic growth in cities with high rates of health and wealth gaps. Instead of large tax incentives and government-private bonds to the developer, social impact bonds (SIB) can be investigated as credible ways to invest public and private trust in remedying social indicators which in turn lead to a competent workforce and communities ready to learn and become self sufficient. http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/07/social-impact-bonds And the return on this investment is no longer than the return on current tax subsidies to developers. More stable and equitable communities in housing, income, education, and race/ethnicity leads to an economy which can maintain resilience from changing market forces, regionally, nationally, internationally and stem the tide of growing inequality.Resilience in changing times The Harbor Point project, if used in a way to target much needed funds to the city’s most needy communities, could be the beginning of Baltimore moving away from its past and current history of race and class corruption and exploitation to one of shared economic benefit and good health for a broader population.
Changing the tide
History shows us that private interests take public subsidies and grow their wealth with little benefit to the surrounding communities of poor and low income. Or maybe we should call it by the more acceptable term of ‘neoliberal take-over of the city’: the continued takeover of community rebuilding processes where government gives up its responsibility to assure that public dollars in a community and economic development project assures that ALL the public benefits. Instead our government ‘leaders’ have been turning over subsidies to private developers who ‘say’ they will rebuild an area to benefit the city with no analysis or evaluation of whether they deliver on promised outcomes. Case in point is the debacle of continued inequitable growth in the Johns Hopkins/EBDI development in East Baltimore made transparent through the Daily Record’s investigative series. The inequity was evident by the lack of construction, jobs for local residents, affordable housing, and non-transparent financial accounting and embarrassed the city council to hold the private:public development board accountable for more than 500 million dollars in public subsidies.
If the city is willing to continue to subsidize private interests with public funds then it must be ready to mandate that the private interests subsidize government’s role to the public in addressing its responsibilities to the public. It’s the only just and economically sensible solution in a neoliberal state! Let’s make our voices heard and NOT let the Baltimore City Council off the hook on this public subsidy legislation by demanding legislation that assures equity to the communities most affected by wealth and health disparities. This type of political action is not only just, it is good for the economy and the health of the community. Let us point the way to equitable and sustainable development in Baltimore. The third public hearing on the Harbor Point development will be held August 7, 2013 at 5pm at City Hall.