The Machine’s History of Deception in Baltimore’s Public Housing

Yes, this was ridiculous. And 100% wrong.

With County politicians John Olzewski, Steve Lafferty and Eric Bromwell committed to making Baltimore County the largest public housing relocation experiment in the United States, it’s worth considering the long history of machine politicians deceiving the public about this project, hiding disastrous results behind self-professed good intentions.

In 1950, Baltimore City debated whether to become one of the largest public housing experiments in the United States by building 10,000 units of new public housing. Baltimore’s industrial economy had already entered a decades long decline immediately following WWII, and with it employment opportunities for the large low-skilled workforce that had migrated into the City during the war. Population loss would soon follow. The 1950 Census was the City’s high point with 950 thousand residents. It would lose over a third of its population over the next 68 years,some  335,000 people.

But City political machine was firmly on the side of public housing. Machine pols could not resist the lure of controlling billions of dollars. And they weren’t shy about deliberately misleading the public to get their way. Take a look at the arguments made during that 1950 debate, from the newspaper ads above.  

Baltimore City Machine’s 1950 Sales Pitch for Public Housing:

  • Public housing will reduce crime and juvenile delinquency

    Arguments against public housing were based on reason, and turned out 100% correct.

  • Wouldn’t reduce tax revenues by more than 2.5%
  • But the City will actually make money through sound operations of housing projects
  • The projects will be beautiful and modern
  • Everyone else is doing it. This is progresss

Public Housing Opponents Predicted the Projects would:

  • Increase City property taxes
  • Reduce property values in surrounding neighborhoods
  • Not be focused on slums, but be spread throughout the City
  • Not help poor people

Anyone who’s lived in Baltimore knows that every objection to the program turned out correct, sadly understating the actual damage to City neighborhoods. The false assurances and manipulation the City political machine used to sell this program to voters are just as obvious. And when the projects quickly devolved into blight, City politicians never reconsidered, continuing to spread some 18,000 units to every corner of the City, even as hundreds of thousands of residents fled the City.

Blaming Baltimore County Residents for the City Machine’s Mistake

It is popular now to blame Baltimore County for the City’s failure. This historic guilt narrative is the heart of the ACLU/NAACP case that resulted in Kamenetz settlement. Baltimore County residents in 2016 were deemed guilty of discrimination for not building public housing projects in the 1960’s and 70’s.

County Voters Made the Right Decision Saying “No” to HUD projects

Having watched Baltimore ring its downtown with highrise public housing, replacing slums with worse slums, then spreading that blight throughout City neighborhoods, why would County voters do anything other than say, “No” to HUD public housing projects? It was objectively the correct choice for the County.

It’s impossible today to deny the City’s public housing experiment was a catastrophic failure. Divining the racist intent of voters from County voters 50 years ago is a manipulative trick to deny responsibility for the program’s terrible design and disastrous results. The architects  pretend that it would have worked if only it could have been spread to Baltimore County.

Of course, most County voters would have remembered the completely false promises the City Machine deployed to sell the original program.  They would have seen that machine double down on failure and continue to build more.

The City’s Disastrous Public Housing Program Was a Real Injustice

The harm of Baltimore’s public housing program to the City and its people was immense. It is clear that Baltimore’s public housing experiment trapped tens of thousands of the poorest Americans in multi-generational poverty. Most came here seeking opportunity or to contribute to the war effort. They were enticed to stay with the offer of free government housing just as opportunity was leaving. It’s worth noting that the public housing supporters weren’t interested in Baltimore County back in 1950. That only developed in the 1960’s, after its failure in Baltimore City had become obvious.  This is the fallacy of central planning. But Central planning is at the core of HUD’s DNA.

Untold billions of dollars in home equity was destroyed in communities near the new projects, disproportionately harming African American homeowners. Due to the explicitly racist Davis-Bacon act (which still commands unanimous Democratic support at the federal level), all-white trade unions built and maintained the new projects, depriving African American residents of the ability to use their own labor in their own communities, develop valuable trade skills, and build wealth from construction businesses.

The logical consequence of adding some 15,000 units of badly designed, poorly managed public housing into a declining market was predictable—  exacerbating a vicious downward spiral of private vacancy, blight, disinvestment and middle-class flight that has plagued the City for seven decades.

Baltimore City’s public housing program might have been a disaster for its neighborhoods. But it worked very well for Baltimore City’s political machine. The machine protects its own power above all else. Administering billions of dollars allowed the machine to collect cash from vendors and votes from communities that became entirely dependent on government.

Lafferty & Olzewski’s Plan for Baltimore County is Disingenuous & Dangerous

Lafferty and Olzewski created the Home Act to finally give the City’s central planners and social engineers what they have wanted since the 1960’s— unaccountable power to impose their public housing schemes on Baltimore County.

Instead of the failed City projects of old, they plan a massive relocation plan using Section 8 vouchers. Just as in 1950, The Home Act is sold on a deliberate falsehood—that a Section 8 voucher is income. It invents a nasty sounding concept called, “Source of Income Discrimination” that it pretends to ban. Of course Section 8 is not income. It’s a HUD program, giving HUD power over every lease term governing the landlord tenant relationship. A landlord choosing not to participate in a HUD program is not “discrimination”; the program’s voluntary design is the only check on HUD’s power.

ACLU Led Group Runs Baltimore Section 8 Program

In 2012 HUD outsourced control over Baltimore’s voucher program to a group of unaccountable central planners created by the ACLU, an all-star team of extreme ideologues. They call themselves the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership. Despite answering to no elected officials whatsoever, the BRHP will receive over $50 million a year for 20 years from the Federal Government. Baltimore County, the largest jurisdiction in the region has no role in this regional partnership other than being its target.

The Home Act is designed to give the BRHP unchecked power over Baltimore County’s housing market. With the power to force every landlord to participate in their voucher program, the BRHP can achieve its objective of moving tens of thousands of people around the region like dots on a map.

Right now, the BRHP pays voucher recipients more to move to certain neighborhoods while prohibiting voucher holders from living in others altogether. Important decisions of which neighborhoods to target are undertaken entirely in secret. If their schemes cause problems for the communities they target, they’re insulated from any accountability whatsoever. The arrogance and elitism of central planners knows no bounds.

Don’t Make a Historic Mistake in 2018!

The secret Kamenetz deal with the ACLU has already made Baltimore County the epicenter of the largest Section 8 relocation program in the United States, covering over 5,100 families. The people who sued us called this settlement described it as a “first step”.

If Olzewski is elected County Executive we’ll find out what those next steps are, most likely from another collusive settlement to secret litigation.

Lafferty and Bromwell will continue their effort to empower failed central planners and social engineers with unchecked power over their constituents’ neighborhoods. In 2017, they successfully pushed the Home Act through the House with a veto-proof majority. Next year, without common-sense Democrats like Jim Brochin in the Senate, their bill is likely to become law.

Lafferty, Olzewski and Bromwell are machine politicians. Bringing Baltimore City’s one-party malgovernance to Baltimore County will work for them. Even if it won’t work for the diverse people of Baltimore County.  But the machine’s schemes will only succeed if voters are manipulated and kept in the dark. Please help spread the word about this betrayal of County voters, get involved, and VOTE FOR REFORM & COMMON SENSE.

Steve McIntire, Candidate for House of Delegates in 42A

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *