by Dan Rodricks for the Baltimore Sun


The plan for the redevelopment of Harborplace deserves all the attention it’s getting, but even more deserving are the ambitious plans to finally deal with Baltimore’s 13,000-plus vacant homes on the east and west sides of the city.

Funded fully and managed wisely, the long-term plan rolled out late last year by Mayor Brandon Scott, the Greater Baltimore Committee and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) could raise the overall quality of life in the city. It could provide housing for people who need it, reverse the city’s population slide and improve property values far beyond the neighborhoods where redevelopment takes place. All of us would benefit.

Over the past few years, I have (with a straight face) appealed to Michael Bloomberg to step into Baltimore’s housing market and invest $1 billion toward converting vacant houses into refurbished homes.

Why Bloomberg?

The billionaire Democrat and former mayor of New York City already has given gobs of his fortune to his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University. If he wants Hopkins to continue to thrive, Bloomberg’s next series of investments should be in neglected, low-income neighborhoods across the city that badly need new investment. Lift them up, and the whole city rises.

Before I go on, a word about suggesting what a particular billionaire should do with his money.

You might find it presumptuous, but I figure, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Besides, it’s kinda fun.

We are way past time for the nation’s 750 billionaires, the beneficiaries of tax policies and technological advances that led to the highest concentration of wealth in history (and to the transfer of trillions to their heirs), to do more for the greater good.

(One grotesque fact from the Federal Reserve: The top 10% of households in the U.S. now hold more than half of all the nation’s wealth.)

A share of this massive wealth comes, no doubt, from decades of tax avoidance, so I have no problem calling out billionaires to fill a gap in funding traditionally viewed as the responsibility of government.

I address Mike Bloomberg in these appeals for two reasons: He has already shown an interest in Baltimore, largely through his donations to Hopkins, and he has signed The Giving Pledge to give away most of his fortune during his lifetime.

I can’t help but ask: What are you waiting for, sir?

Bloomberg has a net worth of $96.3 billion, up $3 billion since 2020. He’s 81 years old.

He recently joined the group, led by another billionaire, David Rubenstein, in the process of buying the Orioles.

So, another Bloomberg billion to boost the neighborhoods to the west of Camden Yards and to the east/northeast of Hopkins Hospital could only enhance his investments (and his legacy) here.

One billion from Bloomberg — or any other billionaire who wants to step up to bat — would be a huge boost for the BUILD-GBC effort on vacant houses.

It is set to be a public-private partnership, and, while public funds might be scarce in Maryland right now, the private part should not be a problem. Not only are there billionaires, like Bloomberg, who have signed the Giving Pledge, Maryland ranks second in the nation in millionaires, according to Forbes; certainly there must be one or two who would foot some of the bill for ending Baltimore’s scourge of vacants.

BUILD already has shown its chops for revitalizing communities, as evidenced by the drop in vacants and the increase in home ownership achieved in Broadway East, Greenmount West and Oliver.

But the idea now is to scale up all efforts on vacants, across the city.

I asked BUILD how it would handle a $1 billion donation from Bloomberg.

“With a need to raise $3 billion in public and social impact capital, a $1 billion commitment from Michael Bloomberg could be transformative,” says the Rev. Andrew Connors, former BUILD clergy co-chair and the senior pastor at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church.

“It could be invested, in significant part, through social impact bonds or through a blend of grants and long-term loans. It could also be used to create a period during which other foundations and for-profit firms could pledge grants or loans, which would be matched by Mr. Bloomberg, up to a certain maximum.

“This type of investment would greatly leverage the monies he might commit and also create a much broader funding coalition. It would make a public-private partnership more than buzz words.”

BUILD has suggested that the Maryland Stadium Authority or the Maryland Economic Development Corporation oversee the project. “An entity like this,” Conner explained, “can help ensure accountability across multiple mayoral and gubernatorial administrations, ensure performance standards are met, issue a portion of the bonds and increase the marketability of those bonds to national investors like Mr. Bloomberg.”

Another way for Bloomberg to channel a billion bucks into Baltimore housing, mentioned in an earlier column on this subject, would be through Baltimore Community Lending. That’s a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution, a nonprofit lender that has been around for three decades, quietly doing what banks refuse to do — finance small businesses and housing in underserved areas of the city, helping low- and moderate-income families become homeowners.

I’ve checked. BCL would be happy to manage an extra $100 million a year for 10 years.

So, there are some ideas, Mr. B. What are you waiting for? Call me if you want contacts.



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