Baltimore County officials recently announced a historic set of legislative measures to expand housing in the county.
The proposed legislative reforms advance key recommendations of the County’s Affordable Housing Work Group, including:
- Establishing a dedicated and permanent Baltimore County Housing Opportunities Fund to allow for reoccurring investment to support the ongoing development, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable and attainable housing;
- Creating Baltimore’s County first-ever process to designate properties as “vacant,” serving as the foundation for future efforts to convert blighted and abandoned properties into housing, including homeownership opportunities;
- Updating the County’s regulations to expand family-member use of accessory apartments (accessory dwelling units or “ADUs”) to increase opportunities to keep families together and allow older adults more opportunities to age in place; and
- Modernizing new townhome construction to create additional housing opportunities aimed at residents who may be priced out of the current housing market.
“I believe it is absolutely essential we expand economic opportunity, improve equity and make sure that every family can find a safe place to call home in Baltimore County,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. “This foundational legislative package is a critical next step in our ongoing efforts to address key gaps in our housing continuum, revitalize underserved areas, and expand the availability of quality, attainable housing for every resident in every community.”
“Expanding housing opportunities for working families is a top priority for Baltimore County, and I am excited to support this proposed legislation, which will help promote homeownership opportunities, revitalize our communities, and increase equity in Baltimore County,” said County Council Chairman Julian Jones. “As Council Chairman, I will continue working with County Executive Olszewski to expand housing opportunities for communities across Baltimore County.”
“I am pleased that County Executive Olszewski is moving the needle in the right direction in forging a multifaceted strategy to address the housing needs of families in Baltimore County,” said County Councilman Izzy Patoka. “Every resident deserves to live with dignity, and I am confident this package of reforms will allow folks to do that.”
“For too long, veterans, seniors, and working families, including those with single parents, have been left behind when it comes to securing attainable housing,” said Councilman Pat Young. “This proposed legislation will provide local government with additional tools in the toolbox to revitalize neighborhoods while promoting housing opportunities for our residents. We look forward working with County Executive Olszewski to advance these initiatives, enriching and cultivating stronger communities as we continue to work toward a better Baltimore County.”
Establishing the Baltimore County Housing Opportunities Fund
The proposed legislation would codify the County’s previously announced Baltimore County Housing Opportunities Fund into law, formally establishing a dedicated long-term funding mechanism to support the ongoing development and preservation of affordable housing.
Baltimore County would utilize the previously committed $16 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds, in addition to future County funds, to support development of new units, acquisition of land and existing units, the preservation of existing units, and the conversion of market rate units to affordable units.
Baltimore County would join other larger jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County in operating similar funds.
Creating the County’s First Process to Define and Address Vacant and Blighted Structures
To create new housing opportunities and address longstanding community concerns about vacant, deteriorating, blighted properties, the proposed legislation would grant the County the authority — for the first time — to officially designate a property as vacant.
Designating a property as vacant will allow the County to implement additional initiatives including financial investment from the Housing Opportunities Fund to convert the County’s blighted and abandoned properties to rental housing or homeownership opportunities.
Updating County Zoning Regulations to Expand Family Member Use of Accessory Apartments (Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADUs”)
The proposed legislation updates Baltimore County’s current Accessory Apartment statute —which only allows immediate family members to reside in “accessory apartments” — to meet modern family definitions, by including anyone who is related by blood, adoption, or marriage to the residents of the main dwelling structure. The legislation will also remove an antiquated provision that prohibits residents from collecting rent from those residing in an accessory apartment.
The update will increase opportunities to keep families together and ensure older adults can safely age in place with family members nearby.
Modernizing Townhome Construction Act
The proposed legislation would adjust the current minimum width allowance for townhome construction from 20 feet to 16 feet. Townhomes built narrower than 20 feet would have to meet certain conditions, including a component of guaranteed affordability and no reduction or alteration of environmental areas.
This smart-growth policy would allow for responsibly increased density for rental or homeownership opportunities for residents who have stable incomes but are priced out of what currently exists on the market in Baltimore County.
“This legislative package represents a remarkable step forward for Baltimore County, demonstrating a deep commitment to investment in expanding housing opportunities while providing us with the necessary and fundamental tools to make it happen,” said Baltimore County Department of Housing and Community Development Director Terry Hickey.
This is the latest effort from the Olszewski administration to expand and modernize housing access in Baltimore County. In his first year in office, the Olszewski administration secured passage of the HOME Act, ending housing discrimination by source of income — after years of unsuccessful attempts — and helped pave the way for similar statewide legislation in 2020.
The administration has continued to support efforts to meet the goals under the County’s 2016 Voluntary Compliance Agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support the creation of 1,000 affordable rental-housing units by 2027. In addition, Olszewski created the Baltimore County Affordable Housing Work Group to develop recommendations to further support and incentivize the creation of attainable housing, Today’s legislative initiative announcement exhibits the active implementation of the Work Group’s recommendations.
In May 2021, Olszewski created Baltimore County’s first dedicated Department of Housing and Community Development to centralize Baltimore County’s housing efforts, eliminate overlapping functions, and streamline planning for key outcomes that are previously dispersed across multiple departments. In his second inaugural address last month, Olszewski announced plans to make housing reform a key second term priority.
The legislation will be introduced at the Baltimore County Council session scheduled for Tuesday, January 17.