Bill to fund Affordable Housing Trust—with corrected language—coming next week, councilman says

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

Ninth District Councilman John Bullock says he’ll be introducing a new bill at the next Baltimore City Council meeting to right a couple wrongs that would have cost the Affordable Housing Trust millions in funding.

Bullock, the sponsor of a long-debated bill that raises taxes on transfers and recording fees in real estate transactions of more than $1 million to fund the trust, told Baltimore Fishbowl that his bill will correct some flawed phrasing.

“All we’re doing is correcting the language,” he said. “Clearly there was an error with the bill that was passed, just in terms of the numbers there.”

He’s referring to two important words: “amount collected.” The bill, first introduced in April 2018, was supposed to tax the total value of real estate in deals exceeding $1 million, but as written it only took a small percentage out of taxes generated by the sale. We’ve explained it here, but in a nutshell, it would have diminished revenues for the trust to as little as 2 or 3 percent of the $13 million that was intended.

The trust is intended to preserve, rehab or build more than 4,100 new affordable units over the next decade. Unaware of the problematic phrasing, the council passed the bill to fund it and sent it to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s desk during the fall.

“I’m glad [the errors] surfaced now rather than two years from now, when we don’t have any money because it was worded improperly,” Odette Ramos, executive director of the Community Development Network and leader of the Housing for All coalition, said earlier this month.

Affordable housing advocates, some of whom worked with the city on the final language for the old bill, had been hoping to see a corrective one introduced at the last council meeting on Jan. 14. However, Bullock said the language hadn’t been finalized by the deadline to get it on the agenda, which was noon on the previous Wednesday, or Jan. 9.

Officials wanted “to be more cautious than hasty,” Bullock said. “We don’t want to go back to the drawing board with this.”

His office has been in touch with the city’s Law Department, the Department of Legislative Reference and Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office about the errors and the planned fixes, he said. “We are on the same page.”

Affordable housing advocates and City Solicitor Andre Davis have said they are unsure whose fault it is that the costly wording errors went unnoticed. Advocates said the Law Department and the Department Housing and Community Development helped to draft the bill, though both agencies said it wasn’t on them.

Asked who he thought was responsible, Bullock said, “I can’t say who or whom at this time, but the point is to get it right.”

“The only thing I can say is it’s unfortunate. There were a lot of hands and eyes on it, but somehow that piece wound up being missed.”

The full council meets again at 5 p.m. next Monday.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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