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Baltimore spending more construction dollars in poor neighborhoods

A new analysis of city construction activity in Baltimore finds more funds are being spent in poorer neighborhoods than previously. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

A new analysis of city construction activity in Baltimore finds more funds are being spent in poorer neighborhoods than previously. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Baltimore officials said a recent analysis of where the city spends public construction dollars shows that more money is going to low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods.

The city and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance – Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore reviewed appropriations from the city’s $1 billion Capital Improvement Plan between fiscal years 2014 and 2020. The evaluation found per-capita dollars spent in disadvantaged communities increasing, but city employees could not attribute the uptick to a particular reason.

“It’s just kind of a step in the right direction, but it will take more time to see what that yields in the long term,” Stephanie Smith, the Department of Planning’s assistant director for equity engagement and communications, said.

A preliminary report released in late 2017 showed the city’s public construction spending disproportionately benefiting wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods. The inequity sparked complaints, with some activists noting the similarity between maps detailing areas with the lowest amount of construction spending and maps detailing redlining in the city.

The most recent report, however, found the three-year per-capita spending average between 2014 and 2016 in city neighborhoods with the highest percentage of black residents amounted to roughly 53% of the per-capita dollar total spent in communities with the lowest percentage of black residents.

In fiscal years 2016 through 2018, according to the city, that switched. Per-capita construction spending in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of black residents outpaced by 5% spending in communities with the lowest percentage of black residents.

The most recent report also examined capital improvement spending at a lower level than the preliminary 2017 figures. That involved taking steps, Smith said, like using the city’s 55 Community Statistical Areas to calculate allocations. But the analysis only examined projects with an identified location. Those projects range from 20% to 60% of the total funds for the six-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Capital projects were also segmented into categories in order to determine if the investment benefited a single community or a wider area. The smallest projects with benefits confined to a neighborhood level were defined as “Local.” Projects benefiting more than one neighborhood were deemed “Multi-Neighborhood,” and projects benefiting all of Baltimore were assigned “Citywide” status.

While the report found the city distributing construction dollars more equitably it still found evidence of relatively well-off neighborhoods attracting greater public construction investment. The Harbor East/Little Italy area had the highest per-capita allocation of construction projects benefiting the local community.

Community Statistical Areas with the highest total per-capita allocations were Penn North/Reservoir Hill, Downtown/Seton Hill and Southeastern Baltimore. But the study found much of the spending in the Penn North/Reservoir Hill community benefited the city as a whole.

“This is an ongoing effort, and our assessments and policy responses must and will evolve and advance over time. I challenge all city agencies to continue to push for the best assessments and use that information to ensure that the needs and aspirations of all Baltimoreans are valued in the policies, programs, and budgets that we enact as a city,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement.

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