Elizabeth Warren’s Housing Plan Makes Her the Best Candidate for Baltimore

Aleyna Rentz
Sep 17 · 4 min read
The Avenue in Hampden, Baltimore; photo by Bruce Emmerling

As I write this, Donald Trump is arriving in Baltimore’s Harbor East for a Republican lawmakers’ retreat, a visit that’s bringing downtown traffic to a crawl and will presumably generate ideas for conservative policy — in other words, his appearance is not exactly in our interest. But when has the President ever acted in our interest? Aside from decrying the city as “disgusting, rat and rodent infested,” his proposed public housing budget cuts and demonization of government aid for low-income Americans would only worsen conditions in the very parts of Baltimore he gleefully insulted. Despite his apparent concern for our rodent problem, Trump has no interest in improving the city. After all, it’s working wonderfully as a tool for stigmatizing black people under the flimsy guise of criticizing Baltimore’s management. If it’s not broken, why fix it?

I wonder what it would be like to have a president who sees Baltimore’s population as people rather than props. With her comprehensive plan to revitalize public housing, fix zoning laws, and address the racial discrimination from which Baltimore’s housing crisis initially stemmed, Senator Elizabeth Warren seems like the most promising candidate.

Though Warren’s 2018 American Housing and Economic Mobility Act hasn’t received much media attention, it’s arguably the key component of her plan to rebuild the middle class. Introduced to the House by Rep. Elijah Cummings, this bill has the potential to transform Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods. It addresses the long-term effects of redlining, the now-illegal practice of denying mortgages to people in minority-dominated neighborhoods that were deemed “hazardous” by the Home Owners Loan Corporation. Warren’s plan would create an unprecedented down-payment assistance program. Eligibility would extend to low-income, first-time homebuyers who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods or communities that were segregated by law. They would receive a grant for a down payment on a house anywhere in the country.

Redlining in the early 20th century set the foundation for the Baltimore we know today — one divided into the privileged “L” and the under-served “butterfly,” a city where walking one or two blocks can sometimes feel like walking into another world. Baltimore’s redlining maps from the 1930s are nearly identical to maps depicting low rates of homeownership today, according to a study by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health. These results should surprise no one. When a neighborhood is deemed hazardous, it inevitably becomes hazardous — denied mortgages, families either lose the opportunity to build wealth through homeownership or fall prey to predatory lending. Both scenarios lead to poverty-stricken neighborhoods that investors ignore and businesses leave, which in turn produces unemployment and crime. Fifty-one years post-redlining, it’s a cycle Baltimore has yet to break.

Elizabeth Warren’s plan is radical in that it looks both backwards and forwards. To fix economic disparity among races, we have to understand and acknowledge its roots, which means recognizing the catastrophic, far-reaching effects of redlining and, more important, actually doing something about it. In addition to awarding grants to first-time homebuyers, Warren’s plan benefits black people who broke the redlining cycle and bought homes but were harshly impacted by the 2008 financial crisis. Her law proposes offering substantial financial aid for families with negative equities on their mortgages. She also wants to invest $500 billion over the next ten years in housing supply for lower-income families, money that would go toward building, preserving, and renovating units. Her plan stretches far beyond these measures, as well, including improving credit access, zoning laws, and unfair tenant practices.

Trump, in comparison to Warren, has done little to address Baltimore and the rest of urban America’s housing concerns aside from appointing the one black man he knows to the head of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, none of the other Democratic frontrunners have housing plans as detailed as Warren’s, either (although Bernie Sanders is slated to roll out a comprehensive housing agenda in the coming weeks). Kamala Harris’ Rent Relief Act would put more money in the hands of low-income renters, and Joe Biden has proposed to house 100% of the formerly incarcerated; while these plans are well-intentioned and commendable, they only address the effects of a larger, systematic problem rather than rooting out the cause. What sets Warren out from her competitors is that she understands what the others — particularly Trump — do not: that to rebuild the middle class, we have to address the systems that made it crumble.

Aleyna Rentz

Creative writing instructor at Johns Hopkins University, supporter of all things Elizabeth Warren.

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