House Baltimore: Frequently Asked Questions
21-0172: Baltimore City Urban Homesteading Program
STATUS: In Committee
What is the Urban Homesteading Program?
This is a program that allows eligible Baltimore City residents to lease homes from the City for just $1 per year. Available homes are placed on a property registry. Within 6 months of leasing the property, program participants must begin necessary repairs, as well as make the property their principal residence. At the end of the 2-year lease term, ownership of the property will be transferred from the City to the program participant, provided that the participant met all lease requirements. This program thus creates an incredibly affordable pathway to homeownership for long-term City residents.
Baltimore City is the home of the country's first racial zoning law. Redlining, the practice of denying Black neighborhoods access to private financial capital, historically displaced Black families in Baltimore and kept them from building generational wealth. A 2018 study found that the majority of neighborhoods that were redlined from 1935 to 1939 are low-to-moderate income today and continue to experience persistent economic inequality and persistent residential segregation. From 2007 to 2017, a troubling trend emerged: the homeownership rate in Baltimore City fell from 51% to 47%, and the Black homeownership rate sank to 42%. Approximately 10,000 Black families in Baltimore continue to be displaced every year due to foreclosures and rental evictions. This legislation is a long overdue solution to the persistent problem of housing inequity in Baltimore City.
Housing inequity is a public health issue. Stabilizing our communities will allow the city and the people who call Baltimore home to come out of COVID stronger. Homeownership creates stable families and strong neighborhoods, but the number of homeowners in Baltimore keeps falling. In the last decade, rates dropped in the city to a point that less than half of families who live in Baltimore own their home. It's even lower for Black families — in a city that's 60% Black. Foreclosures and evictions create even more turmoil. It is critical to address community building and homeowner retention in the wake of the COVID-19 economic crisis through the lens of housing equity.
What are the criteria for available homes?
Homes available for purchase may be placed on the property registry if the City owns the property and has the authority to sell it, the property is able to be repaired, and the property is likely to be purchased by a prospective homeowner. Properties can be located anywhere in Baltimore City, as long as they are City-owned.
What is a Designated Impact Investment Neighborhood, and why are they important?
Designated Impact Investment Neighborhoods are strategically located near anchor institutions and emerging areas of momentum. To ensure the investment has a transformative impact, the legislation will require that the Department prioritize applicants in specific geographic areas that have been historically overlooked by investors and revitalization efforts. By limiting the time available to participate in the program and infusing designated communities in eligibility consideration, the legislation effectively creates an opportunity for increased generational wealth and housing stability among residents impacted by redlining, disinvestment, and other discriminatory practices.
Who is eligible for the Baltimore City Urban Homesteading Program?
All Baltimore City residents over the age of 18 are eligible for the Program. Additional factors that will be considered when prioritizing applicants include: residents who are first time buyers, residing within areas determined to have been discriminated against by racial redlining, those in areas where average home sales fall at or below a predetermined value, and/those whose communities receive federal investments. Individuals that have been City employees for at least 5 years are also eligible. These eligibility requirements ensure that the program is accessible for the working poor, the middle class, small business owners, residents with student loan debt, seniors, and other groups for whom homeownership has not historically been a reality.
What if more than one resident applies for the same property?
This legislation prioritizes residents for whom homeownership has historically been the least accessible. Therefore, priority will be granted to first time homebuyers, those with a household income at or below 80% of the City's average median income, and/or participants in the Federal Housing Choice Voucher program.
What happened to the language about “Legacy Residents”?
The Law Department advised that “Legacy Resident” language would be limiting (find the Law report here). Instead, the bill now includes eligibility prioritization guided by this Urban Institute Report about Baltimore investment flows and housing equity. These new eligibility guidelines include first-time homebuyers, residents from historically redlined neighborhoods, and other factors effectively targeting long-term residents while maintaining the legislation's constitutionality.
For how long will the program be in effect?
This is a pilot program that is set to end on November 30, 2024. This end date aligns with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding timeline.
How much will this program cost Baltimore taxpayers?
The program will be funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. This Federal funding was granted to help Baltimore respond to the COVID-19 crisis. There will not be an increase in taxes.
How can your voice be heard?
Will the dollar house program benefit developers?
The bill spells out that the legislation is for City residents and their families, Housing Choice voucher holders, and City workers from disinvested communities. This bill is not for developers, investors, or real estate speculators.
What protections would the dollar house program provide for participants?
Those who qualify for the Program would need to use a licensed contractor that has been approved by the City to renovate the house. Improvements would be funded by an approved financier under the terms of a prime loan with an at-or-below market interest rate. Improvements also must meet City Code requirements before any funding is dispersed to the contractor. Other provisions of the bill require participants to complete a first-time homebuyer class and obtain warranties on home renovations to keep future repairs affordable. The Home Repairs Grant Program would provide grants up to $50,000 for home repairs, which helps cover the difference between how much it will cost to renovate the house and the appraised value in the event that there is an appraisal gap.
How did the City Council President's Office prepare the bill?
The Council President and his legislative affairs team spent more than nine months researching the bill. That includes analyzing programs operating elsewhere in the country, including those in Detroit and Philadelphia. The team studied federal proposals by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters and U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Raphael Warnock. The Council President's office also looked into Baltimore's dollar house program from the 1970s and studied hearings in 2017 and 2019 that evaluated the possibility of reprising the program, poring through public testimony offered at that time.
Can American Rescue Plan Act funds be used for this program?
Yes, under the House America initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, local leaders are encouraged to use historic investments from the American Rescue Plan, the CARES Act and other federal, state and local resources to ensure families can find safe, stable and secure homes — whether they are experiencing homelessness, living in substandard housing or searching for an affordable home to buy.
21-0173: Baltimore City Home Repairs Grant Program
STATUS: In Committee
What is the Home Repairs Grant Program?
The Baltimore City Home Repairs Program offers grants of up to $50,000 to eligible homeowners. The Program will provide assistance for the following types of home repairs:
- Up to $50,000 for General Repairs,
- Up to $10,000 for Accessibility Repairs, and
- Up to $10,000 for Emergency Repairs.
Why does Baltimore City need a Home Repairs Program?
In a city with pockets of high poverty, many homeowners cannot afford to make costly and unexpected repairs to their properties. This legislation will mean more families can remain in their homes, living comfortably and safely.
What qualifies as an "accessibility repair"?
Accessibility repair is an improvement that allows a person with a disability to move about easier and can include building ramps, modifying spaces or widening doors.
What qualifies as an "emergency repair"?
Emergency repair is an improvement that must be made in a timely manner to remove immediate risk to the health and safety of the resident or their neighbors.
What qualifies as a "general repair"?
General repair is an improvement made for aesthetic or non-emergency reason.
Who is eligible for the Home Repairs Program?
A Baltimore City resident will be eligible for the program if the resident has resided in a Designated Impact Investment Neighborhood, been affected by racial redlining and/or historically overlooked by revitalization efforts.
Eligibility factors to be considered include: median household income, whether a participant has an existing reverse mortgage on their home, and/or whether a participant in the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program. Homeowners will be prioritized based on income, with low- to moderate-income homeowners receiving repairs first. Repairs will also be prioritized if they make homes more energy efficient.
Don't repairs of vacant properties typically cost more than the grant amount provided in the bill?
It is possible that the repairs or renovations residents need cost more than the amount of the repair grant. This grant money is intended as a starting point for residents and can be coupled with other home renovation loans if necessary. Priority will be given to repairs that affect residents' health and safety.
How does this program differ from Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS)?
HUBS, a grant program run through Civic Works, is specifically designed for Baltimore's older adults, who are deserving of a home repairs program that is specifically senior-focused. HUBS's eligibility requirements include seniors ages 65 and above with incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income. Baltimore's seniors deserve their own home repairs grant program with eligibility requirements tailored to include low-income homeowners – these older adults should not have to compete for repairs grants with the general population.
The proposed Baltimore City Home Repairs Program has broader eligibility prioritization that includes many of Baltimore's residents, including older adults that are younger than the age of 65, with prioritization for low- to moderate-income homeowners.
How would these programs work with existing programs?
These bills would create programs that would enhance existing resources, including HBUS and the LIFT program that provides down payment assistance. These proposed programs would not replace existing programs.
21-0174: Baltimore City Senior Homeowners Grant Program
STATUS: In Committee
What is a Reverse Mortgage?
A reverse mortgage is an agreement that homeowners enter to give up equity in their home in exchange for payments, typically to support them in retirement.
Why focus on reverse mortgages?
In the 2000s, Baltimore's Black families were disproportionately targeted by subprime mortgage lenders and reverse mortgage lenders. A 2019 investigation found that reverse mortgages end in foreclosure six times more often in predominantly Black neighborhoods than in neighborhoods that are 80% white. These practices led to mass foreclosures during the 2000s and 2010s, resulting in Black families losing their homes at rates higher than white families.
What is the Reverse Mortgage Grant Program?
The Reverse Mortgage Grant Program protects Baltimore City's senior residents from foreclosure by providing grants of up to $5,000 to make payments toward reverse mortgages.
Who is eligible for a grant?
Residents that are eligible for reverse mortgage grants must be at least 62 years old, never have been in default with their reverse mortgage, and hold the title to their home. The home must be the applicant's principal residence and must not be an unsafe structure. Priority will be given to those residents with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income.
22-0195: Inclusionary Housing for Baltimore City
STATUS: In Committee
What is Inclusionary Housing?
This bill requires that affordable units are placed in new or significantly rehabilitated housing developments. Affordable units must be available to people of extremely low, very low, low, and moderate incomes. This policy would apply to residential projects that contain 20 or more dwelling units and includes both rental and ownership units. Additionally, to promote City accountability to creating affordable housing, this bill stipulates that the Housing Commissioner must adopt an inclusionary housing manual and report out to the Mayor and City Council every year describing efforts to create and sustain inclusionary housing.
Why does Baltimore need Inclusionary Housing?
Gentrification is a process that occurs when wealthy residents move into poor neighborhoods, displacing the original residents and attracting new businesses and improved housing. By requiring developers to offer and maintain housing units for low-income residents, this bill aims to keep residents in their communities so that they too may benefit from economic revitalization in the face of gentrification. The beauty of inclusionary housing is that it creates thriving, diverse communities where residents of different economic backgrounds can work together to revitalize neighborhoods. In Baltimore City, where decades of segregation and disinvestment have plagued Black communities, inclusionary housing is one vehicle by which the dream of racial integration may be achieved at long last.
How will Inclusionary Housing impact my neighborhood?
Baltimore's children, workforce, and seniors deserve to flourish and grow in diverse communities. Residents of mixed income communities can expect to have richer social interactions with neighbors of different backgrounds. Children raised in mixed income communities will develop a strong understanding of and tolerance for those with different socioeconomic and/or cultural backgrounds. Residents can also expect to gain access to better quality of community services and amenities.
22-0196: Short-Term Rental Assistance Program
STATUS: In Committee
Why does Baltimore need a Short-Term Rental Assistance Program?
Baltimore City residents are facing a historic housing crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession. The national median rent increased by 16.4% between January and September 2021. This statistic coupled with the fact that many residents are experiencing severe illness, unemployment, and the impact of inflation, it has never been more essential that Baltimore support its residents with their housing needs.
Who is eligible for rental assistance?
This program is designed for Baltimore City families experiencing a housing emergency. "Housing emergency" can refer to families experiencing homelessness, or any crisis in which stable housing would play a mitigating role. This program is especially intended for residents in violence reduction, diversion, or job training programs.
How long will the program be in effect?
Families eligible for the program will receive rental assistance for up to 12 months.
What is the maximum amount of rental assistance that a family can receive?
Rental assistance to any one family may not exceed $1,500 per month. The assistance amount may change over time relative to a family's gross income.
How will the City pay for this program?
The City will use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from the Federal government to pay for this program. City taxpayers will not be responsible for funding the program.
22-0204 Vacant Structures – 3-1-1 Complaint Fines
This bill establishes a fee structure for repeated substantiated 3-1-1 service requests to vacant properties. If repeated 3-1-1 complaints have been made regarding a vacant property and substantiated by a city agency within a 12-month period, then a fee will be imposed for each inspection. This incentivizes vacant property owners to address multiple complaints about their properties.
22-0205 Vacant Structures – Emergency Response Fees
This bill would require vacant property owners to pay for emergency response services provided by the Baltimore City Fire Department. It allows the City's Fire Department to recoup costs spent on fire investigations, incidents involving hazardous materials, water incidents, and other incidents requiring fire personnel. It allows to the Department to bill property owners based on itemized costs of materials used after responding to an emergency service at their property.
22-0206 Vacant Structures – Registration Fees and Penalties
Vacant properties are required to register with the City. This bill strengthens the City's current vacant registration process by incentivizing vacant property owners to address outstanding code violations and work towards deregistering their property as a vacant. This bill does this by:
- Increasing vacant property owners' first-time registration fee to the City;
- Requiring that vacant property owners renew their registration with the City every six-months, and by;
- Establishing renewal fees and penalties if code violations are not resolved at the time of registration renewal.
To learn more about the legislation, check out the bills:
- Urban homesteading program to create dollar houses
- Home repairs program
- Protections for seniors facing reverse mortgages
Since these bills have not passed yet, are there any existing housing programs available to Baltimore residents?
Please visit DHCD's Affordable Housing page.
For rental and security deposit assistance, click here.
For water and energy assistance, click here.
For emergency rental assistance from Maryland, click here.
For BGE utility assistance, click here.