After Freddie Gray’s death and the ensuing riots, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) spent long days and countless hours meeting with community, religious and government officials in West Baltimore. The governor promised it was the “beginning of a dialogue” and claimed his administration would “address the underlying causes” fueling the unrest. He even shot hoops with the residents of Sandtown-Winchester, just blocks from where Gray had been arrested.
More than two years have passed since Gray’s death. Unfortunately, armored vehicles and continued disinvestment are all the governor has offered the most distressed and segregated neighborhoods in his state.
First, Hogan canceled the Red Line, a proposed $2.9 billion light-rail investment project. The Red Line would have provided job, grocery and health-care access, incentivized regional developers to seek transit-oriented development projects and attracted millennials and others desiring a car-free lifestyle to West Baltimore. His careless decision not only tossed a decade of regional planning and dedicated federal funding into the dustbin of Baltimore’s fraught transit history but also redirected funding to unnecessary and unsustainable rural road projects. Adding insult to injury, the governor approved the Purple Line in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and then opposed the Open Transportation Investment Decision Act, common-sense legislation designed to increase transparency regarding how transportation projects are funded and maximize returns on public investment.
Standing in Sandtown, the governor pretended to address West Baltimore’s vacancy issue by announcing his Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise program. Project Core was promoted as a $700 million plan to tear down thousands of vacant homes and spur urban development. However, this was largely political theater, not major state support for neighborhood reinvestment. Nearly 90 percent of the revitalization dollars that Hogan touted were previously planned state funding, anticipated tax credits or subsidized financing not appropriate for demolition. While a much smaller $28.4 million investment over four years, guaranteed by the Maryland Stadium Authority, is a welcome addition to Baltimore City’s overall and limited demolition budget, this level of funding is a far cry from what is needed to rebuild — not just knock down — neighborhoods in West Baltimore.
Finally, despite strong community support, a proven development team and a forward-thinking, mixed-use transit-oriented development plan, Hogan rejected the rental agreements for State Center, axing a $1.5 billion neighborhood-transformation project for West Baltimore. The project, more than a decade in the making, would have put a grocery store in a West Baltimore food desert, combated job sprawl, improved conditions for state employees, reduced deferred maintenance costs on obsolete buildings and reconnected Baltimore neighborhoods severed by the failures of urban renewal. Instead, Hogan opted for a lawsuit on taxpayers’ backs.
For Maryland to compete and succeed, state leadership must play a critical role in rebuilding and revitalizing its urban core and largest employment center. But Hogan’s love for Baltimore has been nothing more than lip service; since Freddie Gray’s death, his major decisions around transit, housing and economic development all suggest he wants West Baltimore to crumble.
The writer is president of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association Inc., a nonprofit focused on housing, transit and community leadership development in Baltimore City.