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Affordable housing advocates try to disrupt Baltimore City Council hearing

Protesters from the group Housing Our Neighbors announced their displeasure with using $21 million of excess recordation and transfer taxes to cover police overtime.

A bill to transfer the funds, a move approved by Baltimore’s spending board last week, was introduced during the Baltimore City Council’s Monday meeting. As the bill was introduced, organizer Anthony Williams yelled out a prepared statement objecting to the bill.

“$21 million excess generated by the transfer and recordation tax is nearly identical to the amount residents are calling for, for the recently introduced Fund the Trust Act… the $20 million cold be used to rehab 1,500 vacant or create and preserve 4,000 units of affordable housing,” Williams shouted to council members.

Protesters then left council chambers after the bill was introduced. The legislation has been assigned to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Last Wednesday, during the Board of Estimates meeting, activists unsuccessfully tried to confront Mayor Catherine Pugh about the issue.

Advocates are seeking a 1 percent increase of the city’s recordation and transfer tax on the sale on non-owner occupied properties in the city to subsidize the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Voters approved the fund in 2016 without a funding mechanism.

With $20 million in funding annually over 10 years, according to Housing Our Neighbors, the fund could create or preserve 4,120 permanently affordable housing opportunities, rehab 1,596 vacant properties and support six community land trusts.

Activists hope the council will take up the Fund the Trust Act following the completion of the fiscal year 2019 budget process. The bill’s lead sponsor, Councilman John Bullock, said the proposed tax increase is one of several tools the city should be considering to boost affordable housing in Baltimore.

“This is not in any way intended to be anti-development at all,” Bullock said prior to the bill’s introduction in early April.

The measure is opposed by commercial real estate and building interests who argue they’re already shouldering an unfair burden of paying for services.

Baltimore’s current rate of 3 percent, which includes state fees, recordation and transfer taxes, is already the highest in Maryland. The next highest combined rate in the Baltimore metro area is 2.5 percent in Baltimore County. Anne Arundel County charges 2.2 percent and Howard County’s combined taxes amount to 2 percent.

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