Damien Haussling

Damien Haussling   Artist and interviewer: C. Harvey

Damien Haussling

Artist and interviewer: C. Harvey

I’m originally from Virginia and spent sometime in DC where I experienced homelessness. I ended up in Baltimore after being paroled here after getting into some trouble in the Montgomery County. My experience with homelessness changed how I view life in general. Prior to that I went to college and started a graduate program and was going to do “A” , but after my experience I began to learn the real causes of poverty and homelessness and decided that I needed to do “B”. I decided to do whatever I could so that no one else had to be without a home. This led me into advocacy work and I eventually went on to serve as an AmeriCorps/Vista coordinating the Baltimore Area Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau. Through this work and other interactions I became very interested in the fight against poverty and homelessness. I forget who said it but I always repeat it, they said “homelessness is essentially poverty with no key”.

There’s a housing law in Baltimore that requires that a portion of housing in new development  that uses any public funds has up to 20% of housing units be affordable to folks at varying income levels below the area’s median (affordable is defined as paying no more than 30% of one’s gross income on housing costs). The law as I understand it also essentially says the Baltimore City taxpayer will pay the difference (keeping the developer whole) through a housing fund that rarely has money.

Under this model, very few affordable housing units have been successfully built in the past five years. We have given hundreds of millions of dollars to developers who frankly don’t really need it and have no interest in developing housing for poor people. Sagamore,  the developer behind the Port Covington redevelopment requested $660 million in local bonds to develop Port Covington and got it.  Michael Beatty’s, Beatty Development Corporation got over $100 million for Harbor East.  Neither is building any housing that the very poor could afford.

In the initial agreement with the Sagamore, the city waived the 20% affordable housing requirement. The developer, instead, said that they would have a goal of providing just 10%  of the housing affordable to households making 80-100% of  the Area Median Income (AMI),  The (Baltimore Metro Area) Median Income is just under $87K while the Baltimore City median is only $42K, less than half that.  Sagamore’s goal (and it was only a goal!) would have maybe made housing affordable for folks above almost $70K.  Does that sound like they care about poor people?.

Housing Our Neighbors is a community group comprised of people who have experienced  homelessness, allies and advocates working to end homelessness in Baltimore. Our fight over Port Covington started with good old fashion protesting and a few community events and at City Hall.  With the help of an attorney, we worked with Council member Carl Stokes (Stokes chaired the committee that debated the Port Covington agreement) who helped to get a new affordable housing policy for Port Covington on the floor. Later, at Stokes’ urging, we began negotiations with the Port Covington developers. Our first proposal included a requirement that 20% of the housing be made affordable for folks earning 30% of AMI, which was dead on arrival  They eventually did move the needle a bit from a goal to a requirement with some minor adjustments to the “all at 80% of AMI” offer that they had,  but who’s going to hold them accountable?

More about the Port Covington Decision (and some by-the-numbers facts): http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/port-covington/