September 26, 2020

CPHA 101: TransForm Baltimore and Existing Alcohol Outlets

CPHA has well covered the effort to reduce alcohol outlet density via the proposed zoning code that the City Council is presently considering, and last week we offered this update on where the City Council currently stands on the portion of the zoning legislation

The Baltimore City Liquor Licensing Board, a dysfunctional state agency, currently suggests that their should be 1 liquor license for every 1,000 city residents, which would amount to a total of about 625 licenses. The reality is that there are currently 1,330 licenses in Baltimore, about twice the number Baltimore should have and some are operating in residential areas.

In 1971, Baltimore recognized the excessive presence of liquor outlets and used zoning to moderate the impact on residential areas. During this process the city deemed Class A “packaged good” stores as “nonconforming uses” if they were located in residential zoned areas. As a result, they were no longer considered an appropriate use for a primarily residential area. Existing stores were allowed to stay, but no new businesses wishing to sell alcohol could establish in those districts. The hope was that the remaining stores would close over time because of their “nonconforming” status. As the current debate over Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction illustrates, many of these stores benefited from near monopoly conditions and still exist today.

City Council Bill 12-0152, known as “TransForm Baltimore,” would use zoning to reduce alcohol outlet density of packaged goods stores by removing non conforming packaged goods stores and removing pseudo taverns that are currently acting as packaged goods stores. So how will this work?

STEP 1: Phase Out of Residential Liquor Stores

License Type: Class A

  • There are roughly 100 nonconforming liquor stores operating in residential areas
  • Commonly referred to as packaged good stores where alcohol is consumed off-premise only.
  • Within 2 years of adoption, nonconforming Class A licenses must end sales of alcohol or transfer their license to a properly-zoned location in a business district.
  • Business owners may request a hardship waiver, receiving an additional 2 years to adhere to the law, but must cease alcohol sales during that time.

STEP 2: Compliance with Tavern Definition

  • License Type: Class BD-7
  • Commonly referred to as taverns.
  • BD-7 liquor licenses are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on-and-off-site from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
  • The new code requires that all taverns dedicate at least 50% of their sales and floor to on-site consumption to ensure they operate as a true tavern and not merely a packaged good store.

Click on this graphic to see the planned impact of TransForm Baltimore on existing liquor establishments:

City Council To Review Parking Cash Out Proposal

Councilman Ryan Dorsey along with co-sponsors Brandon Scott, Yitzy Schleifer, Zeke Cohen, Kris Burnett, Shannon Sneed, Bill Henry, and Mary Pat Clarke have introduced a bill before the City Council that would mandate the City pay the cash equivalent to what it would cost to subsidize a city employee’s parking space should that worker choose to bike, walk, or use transit instead of driving. This is known as parking cash-out.

This concept was first developed by UCLA Professor of Urban Planning Donald Shoup, author of the highly influential book “The High Cost of Free Parking“.

In 2005 Shoup wrote a report for the American Planning Association on parking cash-out. In 1994, 95 percent of American automobile commuters who drove to work alone parked for free. Though Shoup notes that some workers will drive to work alone even if they have to pay, even workers who have the option to use alternatives means of transportation will drive to work for the simple fact that free parking is a benefit workers feel they might as well use. Shoup points to studies from Los Angeles, Ottawa, and Washington, DC as evidence that employer-paid parking encourages workers to drive to work alone.

Shoup describes nine principle benefits to parking cash out.

  1. It gives commuters choices
  2. Rewards those who use alternative means of transportation
  3. Reduces vehicle trips
  4. Treats all commuters equally since those who use public transportation are effectively subsidizing those who drive to work. This is especially important with regards to lower-income workers who are more likely to use public transit
  5. It costs employers very little money. Based on California’s current parking cash-out law which applies only when the company rents parking spaces, Shoup gives an example of a company with 100 workers that spends one-hundred dollars a month per parking space. In this example 90 of the companies 100 employees drive to work. If the company were to pay employees who do not drive to work $100 a month, it would only equal $10 more per month per employee. Furthermore, in the case of California, employers can meet the cash-out requirement in a variety of ways in order to ease or prevent any potential financial hardship.
  6. Parking cash-out also allows the Central Business District to be more competitive with suburban areas because many employers in downtown areas already provide free parking to their employees. Since downtowns tend to be walkable and have good public transit access, there is a very high likelihood that employees will take the cash-out option, meaning that the extra cash could be seen as an incentive that will help attract employees.
  7. Another benefit is that parking cash-out converts economic waste into public revenue as unlike parking benefits, parking cash-out is taxable. Therefore, the money an employer was spending for a benefit an employee did not need is being spent in a more productive way and contributing to government coffers.
  8. Employees are likely to resist an employer charging for parking when it was at one point free. But through giving employees an incentive to not drive to work through paying them cash, the negative effects of free parking are diminished without charging employees for parking.

Employer parking cash-out policies have been implemented across the country. Some of the most most notable examples can be found in California where there is a mandatory parking cash-out law. Washington, DC is also considering legislation that would require employers to offer a parking cash-out option.

However, parking cash-out can even be found outside major urban centers on the coasts. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Spectrum Health decided that when it moved downtown it would not provide free parking to its employers. Instead, it will pay them a little bit more money that they can use to pay for parking, should they so choose. However, the extra pay will be a little less than what workers will have to pay for parking. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., a public agency that promotes living and working downtown both provides a parking cash-out scheme for its employees and actively encourages it among employers locating in the downtown area.

Reducing auto traffic within Baltimore, especially in and around the Central Business District is a worthwhile goal. Parking cash-out is one of many ways to accomplish this. The City should set a strong example for other employers by implementing such a program for its own employees. We look forward to the passage and implementation of this bill and hope to one day see incentives for private employers to do the same as well.

A Merger between Baltimore City and County?

Note: As this article was going through the editing phase, the Abell Foundation released a report examining Municipal consolidations across the Country. We encourage our readers to take a look at it.

Citylab reports that an influential group of St. Louis business and civic leaders is calling on the City of St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County to merge into one unified metropolitan government.

Citylab reports that an influential group of St. Louis business and civic leaders is calling on the City of St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County to merge into one unified metropolitan government.

Given that Baltimore City and St. Louis are the only cities in the country not part of a surrounding county and not counties in and of themselves, are older rust belt cities that have suffered population loss, and have large African-American populations with a history of racial tension, this proposal is relevant for Baltimore to say the least.

Better Together, the organization pushing for reunification, consists of major business and civic leaders in the St. Louis region. In their report advocating for unification, they present some startling facts about local governance in St. Louis City and County:

  • There are 90 different municipalities
  • 57 Police Departments (many of which are unacredited)
  • 81 Municipal Courts
  • 52,000 pages of ordinances

This fragmentation results in some stunning inefficiencies that have had a profoundly negative impact on the quality of life for residents in the St. Louis region. For example, not only do St. Louis County and City compete against each other for economic development, so do the 90 different municipalities. This results in massive corporate subsidies as municipalities try to outdo each other in order to attract businesses.

Public safety and the administration of justice is another area in need of improvement. Within St. Louis County, some police departments are well paid, well trained, and well equipped. Others pay some part-time police officers less than $12 an hour and in at least one department, officers are only provided with a badge and name identification!

But perhaps the most disturbing impact on public safety within the St. Louis area has been the use of fines in some small municipalities to pay for basic government services. The Better Together report found that while fines in St. Louis City and unincorporated St. Louis County are proportionate to their share of Missouri’s population, municipalities in St. Louis County make up 11% of the state’s population, but account for 34% of all fines collected. The municipalities most reliant on these taxes have disproportionately large African-American populations.

Better Together recommends the consolidation of St. Louis City and County into a unified”Metro City” government. This responsibilities of this entity would include control of the Courts, policing, economic development, and planning and zoning. Under the plan, school and fire protection districts would remain intact. Better Together plans to put this issue to a statewide referendum in 2020.

So what does this all mean for Baltimore?

There are many ways Baltimore City and County governments suffer from fragmentation — even if the challenges of fragamentation may not be as severe as in St Louis.

However it is important to note there is no organized movement pushing for this change and a merger of Baltimore City and County any time soon seems unlikely.

But there are examples from other regions, most notably the Twin Cities and Portland that could serve as blueprints for regional governance in the Baltimore area.

In the Portland region there is an elected regional government known as Metro. Led by a Council President elected regionwide and six council members elected by district, Metro performs the following functions:

  • Metro manages Portland’s much-lauded urban growth boundary and assists local governments with planning and development. This includes managing affordable housing.
  • Runs and provides funding for the Oregon Zoo, Oregon Convention Center, Portland Expo Center, and Portland Center as well as a regional parks system
  • Oversees and assists local communities with waste management functions through promoting recycling and composting, development of a Regional Waste Plan and management of recycling and garbage transfer stations
  • Serving as the federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Portland region, through development of a long-range regional transportation plan

The St. Paul-Minneapolis area has a similar organization known as the Metropolitan Council. The Council is governed by 17 members who serve at the pleasure of the Governor. Included among those members are a Council Chair and representatives from 16 different districts in the Twin Cities region.

Anyone can nominate themselves to serve as a district representative. Nominees are then reviewed by a nominating committee consisting of elected officials and other prominent community members. The nominating committee then submits their recommendations to the Governor who has the final say over appointments.

The Metropolitan Council manages the regional transit system, ensures affordable housing is equitably distributed throughout the region, provides wastewater services and develops a long range water plan, and oversees regional parks planning.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) is similar to the above organizations in that it consists of all local governments in the Baltimore region and has a mission of encouraging regional cooperation. In addition to serving as the Baltimore region’s federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization, the BMC oversees a regional housing voucher program and was the driving force behind the Opportunity Collaborative.

However, the BMC does not have the amount of power and ability to make policy-making decisions as those of the organizations listed above. This is because the BMC’s board consists of the Mayor of Baltimore, one County Commissioner each from Queen Anne’s and Caroll Counties, as well as the County Executives for Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Harford Counties. There is also a private sector representative appointed by the Governor along with one legislator each from the State Senate and House of Delegates.

With the BMC board representing such a diverse set of interests, it is difficult for members of the BMC to reach consensus on most issues. Furthermore, since each jurisdiction is represented equally, smaller counties receive a disproportionate amount of representation.

Give the history of strained relationships between Baltimore City and County, it may appear that a form of regional governance, be it through a stronger Baltimore Metropolitan Council or some other mechanism, is a pipe dream. However, if one looks at the regional arrangements already in place, it is not that far fetched.

Baltimore City currently manages Baltimore County’s water system and both governments are parties to EPA water system consent decrees that have resulted in skyrocketing water and sewer rates in both jurisdictions. Baltimore County also sends some of its trash to be burnt at the Wheelabrator garbage incinerator, making waste disposal a regional issue that requires regional solutions.

Most likely unbeknownst to most City and County residents the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences provides funding for a number of arts and cultural institutions in Baltimore City. These include the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Gallery, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

As mentioned above, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council runs a regional voucher program in recognition of the fact that all jurisdictions in the region must play a part in providing homes for low to moderate income households.

Baltimore City and some of its suburban neighbors are already,working together on some issues of regional importance. Yet we lack a strong, formal, regional policy-making body that can coordinate cooperation between all regional jurisdictions.

Baltimore City and its suburbs are interconnected and the boundaries between our jurisdictions are at times little more than lines on a map. Everyone benefits when we work across municipal lines to work for the betterment of the Baltimore region. Even if a city-county merger may not happen tomorrow, steps towards regional cooperation should be taken today.

Home Act

Understanding the Baltimore County Home Act

The Baltimore County HOME Act would outlaw discrimination against renters based on their source of income. Sources of income covered under this law can include inheritance, disability payments, alimony, and Housing Choice Vouchers.  CPHA is honored to join our partners at Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, the Public Justice Center, and the Baltimore County Home Act Coalition in working towards passage of this important legislation.

We are no stranger when it comes to improving quality of life in Baltimore County. In the 1950s CPHA pushed for a Baltimore County master plan, for much of the 60’s CPHA fought for the establishment of the Solidiers Delight Natural Environment Area, and in the 1970s we even sued the County for limiting citizen input with regards to reorganization of the County Planning Board. In the year 2000 we held our Rally for the Region at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Pikesville. Most recently, we held two community workshops as part of our outreach work with the Opportunity Collaborative in Dundalk and Owings Mills.

Unfortunately, there are a great deal of misconceptions about who Housing Choice Voucher recipients are, the Housing Choice Voucher program itself, and what this legislation sets out to do.  We’ve set up this page to explain the facts behind these issues and to show how such a law will improve quality of life throughout Baltimore county.

CPHA would like to thank Beyond the Boundaries for making our work on the HOME Act possible.

What is a Housing Choice Voucher?

Formerly known as Section 8 Vouchers, the Housing Choice Voucher program is a federal program developed in the 1970s. They are distributed to low income individuals and families who qualify by local housing authorities. Many times recipients do not receive their voucher until they have been on the waiting list for a very long time. In Baltimore County, the average wait time for a voucher is nine years. A voucher can only be used in the jurisdiction it is issued in.

After recipients are awarded their voucher, they may take it to any property that accepts it and charges the amount of rent that is within the guidelines set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The voucher does not necessarily pay for all of their rent. Recipients are required to pay 30% of their income towards the rent. Those portions of the rent not paid by the tenant are paid by the local housing authority with funds provided by HUD to the landlord through direct deposit. The only requirement for landlords is that they pass a basic housing inspection in order to receive payment.

Who are Housing Choice Voucher recipients?

In Baltimore County:

  • 32% are senior citizens
  • 25% are low wage workers
  • 30% are people with disabilities

There is also a special program for veterans and their families called the Veterans Affairs Supplemental Housing (VASH) program.

Why is the HOME Act Needed?

The HOME Act is needed because many landlords refuse to rent to tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. As a result, voucher-holders are concentrated in lower-income areas of the County. This contributes to racial and economic segregation.

In what communities do voucher recipients live in?

You can view a map of Housing Choice Voucher recipients throughout Baltimore County right here.

Here’s a listing of the number of Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) in select Baltimore County communities. The entire population of these communities are in parentheses:

  • Randallstown (32,430) : 533 HCVs
  • Dundalk (63,597) : 934 HCVs
  • Essex (39,262) : 558 HCVs
  • Middle River (25,191) : 462 HCVs
  • Milford Mill (29,042): 568 (HCVs)
  • Pikesville (30,794) : 395 HCVs
  • Reisterstown (25,968) : 329 HCVs
  • Woodlawn (37,879) : 355 HCVs
  • Towson (55,197) : 242 HCVs
  • Perry Hall (28,474) : 118 HCVs
  • Lutherville (6,504) : 1 HCV
  • Timonium (9,925) : 3 HCVs

As can be seen from the data, vouchers are heavily concentrated on the east and west sides of the County.

Why do some landlords refuse to take Housing Choice Vouchers and why do they oppose the HOME Act?

In public, landlords will state that taking Housing Choice Voucher recipients is an administrative burden and that anti-discrimination protections for voucher-holders are forcing them to take part in a government program.

These are questionable arguments. The only requirement for landlords is that they allow a very brief housing inspection in order to ensure tenants are not living in substandard housing. Some opponents of the law have spread false information that the process for evicting Housing Choice Voucher recipients is more difficult than that for other tenants or that landlords are not allowed to enter the apartments of voucher recipients. Furthermore, we know of at least one large landlord that will take vouchers in less affluent parts of the county but will not take them in more prosperous areas.

The more likely explanation is that landlords refuse to take vouchers due to unfair stereotypes about voucher holders. However, landlords will still be allowed to refuse to rent to potential tenants with a criminal history, poor references, bad credit rating, or any other criteria they judge relevant. The HOME Act only mandates that landlords not discriminate against a potential tenant due to their source of income.

What effect will the HOME Act have on the distribution of poverty throughout Baltimore County?

By outlawing discrimination against voucher holders, the Home Act will open up housing opportunities throughout the County for low income individuals. This will help to prevent and reduce concentrations of poverty.

How will this effect Baltimore County Public School Children?

It’s been said that “housing policy is school policy”. There’s a great deal of research that academic success is closely related to economic status. Research suggests that poor children perform better academically when they attend the same schools as their more affluent peers. The HOME Act will significantly increase the likelihood that a family with a Housing Choice Voucher will be able to move to a high opportunity area and put their child in a good school. It will also be an important tool in preventing schools from being overwhelmed with low-income students. You can read David Rusk’s Housing Policy is School Policy paper for more information.

Do any other jurisdictions have similar laws?

Yes. Howard and Montgomery County, the City of Frederick, and the City of Annapolis have passed similar laws. This law also exists for certain properties within Baltimore City.

At the state level, Utah, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin have such a law. Washington, DC also protects Housing Choice Voucher holders from discrimination.

What are the HOME Act’s chances of passage? What can I do to help it pass?

Advocates for the HOME Act have met with several members of the County Council and a number of them have been sympathetic. The County Executive is also in support of it. This April, more than 100 Home Act supporters packed the County Council Chambers in support of this bill. You can help by signing up for our email newsletter to stay aware of the latest developments, testifying at upcoming County Council meetings and hearings, and talking to your friends and neighbors.