After a Speak-Out in front of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) last week, where residents spoke about their concerns regarding Baltimore’s implementation of the RAD program, HABC announced that they “definitely” would not be selling the land along with the buildings, and that they will be forming a “Technical/Financing Work Group” for residents, workers, attorneys, and advocates to participate in the process of determining the roll-out of RAD!
On Tuesday, June 10th at an informational meeting about RAD at the Bernard E Mason Senior Apartments, resident Gary Stroud, a resident in the building, tried to ask Housing Commissioner Graziano a question about the long-term affordability of the buildings being privatized. Graziano refused to answer his question, stating that he’d “already answered that.” Minutes later when Karen Wabeke, attorney at the Homeless Persons Representation Project and invited guest of the residents, attempted to follow up on Gary’s question to get some clarity for residents, she was hushed by a dismissive hand gesture by Graziano, who said “I’m only taking questions from residents.” This is the tone that has been set for resident participation in conversations about the RAD program so far. Questions about new cabinets are welcome.
Residents have been invited to meetings, only to receive pat information from HABC, and have been told by existing resident leadership to not ask questions. That’s why this shift is a major one, and a victory for the residents. It remains to be seen how much real input residents will be able to have in the process, but with advocates and attorneys present, residents hope that there will be real answers to hard questions about the future of public housing, and that they will be able to participate meaningfully in this process.
These changes came via a regular “Advocates Meeting” between HABC and concerned legal groups just one day after residents and workers held a Speak-Out to Rethink RAD on June 11th, in front of the Housing Authority. Residents Housing Commissioner Graziano promises that, in contrast to the proposal so far, they will “definitely not be selling the land.” While this is not in writing yet, attorneys from the Homeless Persons Representation Project are working to get the “term sheet,” which will be included in the ground leases that will now be offered to the private companies.
The importance of this change is that, with the HABC retaining ownership of the land, there will be more accountability from the public where the affordability of the housing is concerned, and the new companies will not be able to sell off the buildings to the highest bidder. It remains to be seen if the long-term ground leases being issued by HABC to the developers will include provisions for permanent affordability or if they will only be bound by the affordability requirements of the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), which have affordability requirements lasting 30 years, but residents, who want public housing to exist long into the future, not just 30 years, will be pressing hard on this issue through the Technical/Financing Work Group and beyond, which the HABC says will meet in July.
These changes indicate that residents are beginning to be heard, and this is only the beginning of our fight for for transformative solutions, which include non-profit ownership of the land in a shared-equity Community Land Trust model. We will be continuing to fight to ensure permanent affordability of public housing!