- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

BALTIMORE (AP) - There’s demand for affordable housing in Baltimore - but finding the people to build it is difficult.

Experts say that’s partly because federal support is declining for this segment of the market, which covers a broad spectrum of below-market-rate developments, from housing for teachers, police and firefighters to government-subsidized housing for the homeless. But they also say it’s hard to find the expertise to put together the funding to make it possible.

Chickie Grayson is president and CEO of Enterprise Homes, a Baltimore-based developer dedicated to providing housing for low- and moderate-income people. From her perspective, the issue facing Baltimore isn’t so much a matter of supply but the condition of what’s available.

“There’s a lot of quote unquote affordable housing,” Grayson said. “But there’s not a lot of quality affordable housing,”

Adam Schneider, of Health Care for the Homeless, a local nonprofit founded in 1985, said during a news conference in February that the need for more affordable housing in Baltimore is glaring. The news conference was called after the federal government ordered Baltimore to pay back $3.7 million from a grant designed to house homeless residents after questioning how the money was spent.

“The first issue is the lack of affordable housing that we have, and the fact that over the last three and a half decades federal funding for affordable housing has been diminished by 60 percent,” Schneider charged.

Grayson agreed that declining support from Washington has made developing affordable housing more challenging, but praised the job Maryland has done to leverage financing.

“You can’t (build) something if you don’t have the resources to do it,” she said.

Ivy Dench-Carter, of Pennrose Properties, which develops multifamily and mixed-use developments for market-rate and mixed-income communities, cast doubt on whether developers would ever be able to meet the demand in Baltimore for affordable housing, but praised the city’s current administration for working with developers to try to meet the need.

“In order to make affordable housing work you need certain subsidies, you need certain soft loans, and I think the city does a good job with their allocation from the feds and making sure affordable housing is developed in the city,” Dench-Carter said.

Dench-Carter said there are substantial obstacles to getting builders who traditionally develop market-rate housing to enter the affordable-housing market.

“I think it is difficult for builders who have not done an affordable housing deal to get into this arena, given the number of financing resources they have to deal with and all of the regulatory requirements that we deal with. But as a whole I think if we could get additional funding levels back to where they were a number of years ago from the federal government we could produce a lot more affordable housing in this region,” Dench-Carter said.

Donald Manekin of Seawall Development Co., which has been focusing on workforce housing in the Remington neighborhood, said he feels there’s a very strong demand for workforce housing in Baltimore because younger residents want a more urban lifestyle.

“People are tired of driving beltways, and so I think there’s a pretty strong market for this generation of young people . who want to live in cities and want to feel like they’re part of communities,” Manekin said.

Manekin said Seawall entered the affordable-housing market because his company is less profit-driven than others, and because of a desire to build up a community it had just invested in after it completed its mixed-use Miller’s Court development at 26th and Howard streets.

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