In Sandtown yesterday, Governor Hogan with Mayor Rawlings-Blake announced an impressive $700 million program called CORE. The acronym stands for Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise. The link will take you to the official press release.
The idea is that a good number of selected vacant and abandoned structures in the city’s disadvantaged neighborhoods will be torn down over the next 4 years and turned into green spaces that will be developed, eventually, into to mixed use commercial and residential facilities.
The Mayor says she likes the program because it will help her achieve her goal of growing the city by 10,000 families. Unfortunately, that’s 10,000 families over 10 years which is a proverbial drop in the bucket. And then there’s the question of what families we’re talking about and where are they going to work. Her heart may be in the right place, but her 10,000 families over 10 years program doesn’t address today’s urgent need for good jobs for the city’s unemployed and under-employed who already live here.
More to the point, what’s troublesome about this otherwise welcome investment is that it is meant to reduce “urban blight.” It’s about appearances as much or more than it is about immediate jobs creation.
No question about it, the prevailing presence of abandoned homes in many of Baltimore’s lower income neighborhoods is depressing, to say the least. Many of these buildings are beyond refurbishing and need to be torn down, but to make way for what? And, for the time being, could the state’s and the city’s money be used for some better, more productive purpose? To satisfy a more immediate need for employment and income?
It’s our contention that the urban blight the Governor and Mayor should be focusing upon isn’t about vacant and abandoned buildings where no one lives. It’s about the hearts and aspirations of the people who live among these vacant properties. It’s about the trouble they’re having getting jobs, jobs that pay at least a minimum living wage. It’s about their daily struggle to put food on their tables, to take care of their children and to make sure their kids have a better life ahead of them.
So, instead of spending hundreds of millions tearing down buildings and fostering development that may or may not displace local residents without helping all that many of the families living in these neighborhoods, we have a suggestion.
- Give the city-owned vacant properties to any and all employers who will move there and let economic recovery occur organically. Let local, area and employers from around the country pick the locations where they would like to do business rather than guessing what the market wants and forcing development where government thinks it should go.
- Forgive the property taxes on these properties for at least 5 years. It won’t cost the city or the state a dime because these properties aren’t paying any taxes.
- Help these established small and moderate-size employers find the construction and permanent financing they need.
- And advertise the hell out of the program around the country with high-profile marketing like you were Coke introducing a new soda. Make Baltimore the destination of choice for employers all over the place interested in an east coast location with all the benefits Baltimore has to offer.
Don’t make this program about appearances and government structured development over the next 4 or more years. Make it about jobs, the right now kind, with the sense of urgency the situation in our city and around the kitchen tables of so many of our families demands.