Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh wants to establish a $55 million fund to boost investment in struggling city neighborhoods, financed by leasing city-owned garages.
The Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund is intended to attract real estate development to bring new homes, recreational opportunities and businesses to struggling areas of the city.
Pugh outlined details of her proposal during her regular briefing with reporters on Wednesday morning.
“When you look at some of the corridors of our neighborhoods … we just have blocks and blocks and blocks of boarded-up houses,” she said.
Money for the fund, which is expected to seed investment from the private sector, will come from an arrangement with the Maryland Economic Development Corp. involving MEDC issuing general obligation bonds. In turn, the city will lease city-owned garages through the organization.
Issuing the bonds through MEDC is necessary, Pugh said, because the city is approaching its 4 percent bond cap. The deal, she continued, will allow Baltimore to continue to collect taxes from garage operations.
A nonprofit, with a board appointed by the mayor, would oversee the use of the funds. The proposal still must be approved by the Board of Estimates and the City Council.
Pugh, during her campaign for mayor and during her time in office, has said attracting new investment to poor city neighborhoods is a top priority. In her State of the City address Pugh pitched the creation of a $1 billion investment fund.
Both the city and the state have tried a few initiatives to rid Baltimore of blighted vacant homes that are primarily the result of the city’s population dwindling to roughly 600,000 from a peak of nearly 1 million in the 1950s.
Maryland, in partnership with the city, launched Project C.O.R.E., or Creating Opportunity for Renewal and Enterprise, in early 2016. The state has committed $100 million to the program aimed at razing 4,000 vacant properties and enticing developers to rebuild in communities struggling with disinvestment.
Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake launched her own initiative, called Vacants to Value, in 2010. A report from the Abell Foundation released five years after that program’s launch found it produced mixed results. While Vacants to Value led to some demolition and rehabs, the city, according to data posted in April on the Open Baltimore website, has 16,634 vacant properties, about the same number as when the initiative launched.
Affordable housing advocates also are pushing to generate revenue to fund an Affordable Housing Trust Fund approved by city voters in 2016. Advocates want to use the fund in part to create land banks and redevelop vacant homes as affordable units for residents making less than 50 percent of area median income. In April, Councilman John Bullock introduced a bill that would increase the Baltimore’s transfer and recordation taxes by 1 percent to subsidize the fund. That bill has been assigned to the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee for review.
Baltimore is one of six finalists for the federal Neighborhood Choice Program, Pugh announced Wednesday. If the city is one of three jurisdictions selected it would receive an additional $65 million for economic development.
“The fact is that we have so many boarded-up houses and we’re not making progress or attracting enough investment,” Pugh said.