Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s contentious proposal to build an investment fund through the leasing of city-owned garages to aid distressed neighborhoods has gotten a lukewarm reponse from Baltimore City Council.
In a budget hearing on Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun reported, council members expressed concern over the lack of details in setting up the $55 million deal to lease three garages, a proposal that is scheduled for approval by the city’s Board of Estimates — controlled by the mayor — next month. But the council needs to sign off on the initial $55 million before it can be approved, the Sun reported.
The mayor envisions using the $55 million as seed money for her proposed “Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund,” which would be directed toward development in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The fund would be overseen by a public/private board and managed by a nonprofit entity that would be empowered to attract more investment monies to assist Baltimore’s underinvested communities, according to the Sun.
Council members expressed reservations over what they deemed were the administration’s haste in presenting the plan and lack of details in its operation. Councilman Ryan Dorsey questioned whether a fully realized plan was even in place.
“I know that you think you should come up with a plan after we give you the go-ahead but that’s not how things work in the real world,” Councilman Dorsey said. “I can’t go to a bank and ask for a mortgage for my home and tell them I’ll work out a repayment plan with them later.”
If the proposal is approved in July, the funds would be placed under the control of the new board. Council President Bernard C. Jack Young expressed concern about the composition of the board of the nonprofit fund. “The board is going to determine whether communities that need this shot in the arm are really going to get it,” Young said.
An aide to the mayor, Colin Tarbert, representing Mayor Pugh at the Wednesday hearing, responded that the nonprofit board would initially be made up of civic leaders, some city officieals, and perhaps fund investors, and the fund would be subject to a loan agreement that would set terms on how the money can be spent.
The fund promises to invest in housing and commercial projects in historically neglected areas deemed to be “severely distressed” by the federal government, Tarbert added. “The goal here is to really create a new era of funding for neighborhoods.”
The proposal was first presented to the public only this month, when Mayor Pugh said that her goal was to “bring back neighborhoods that have been underinvested in,” the Baltimore Sun previously reported.
“Trees don’t grow through houses overnight,” she said at the time. “That’s decades of neglect or under-investment.”
As Next City reported previously, the City of Baltimore has itself been guilty of chronically neglecting to invest in the same neighborhoods neglected by the private sector — a pattern that only recently came to light, which the city’s planning department is only now working to correct.
“We’re here in the 21st-century operating off of a game plan that in many ways was conceived in the late 19th, early 20th-century,” Stephanie Smith, assistant director in the Baltimore City Department of Planning, told Next City’s Oscar Perry Abello. “That system outlived its creators, but we have an opportunity within planning to un-plan some of the inequities in ways that will outlive us.”
Alexis Lipsitz Flippin is a writer and editor living in New York City.