When a government creates a tax increment financing district, it is ultimately promising to improve the area. It is saying that after threatening residents with condemnation litigation and buying their property at bargain prices, they will transfer it to deep-pocketed developers; still people in the neighborhood will notice things change for the better. In reality, that is often how it works out – not even close.
A reporter and writer from Baltimore recently teamed up to analyze how one such tax increment financing scheme unfolded for the residents of West Baltimore. A developer acquired 13.8 acres of land from West Baltimore; West Baltimore then in turn provided nearly $60 million in tax increment financing. Other than two “luxury” towers, their facades, masking poorly crafted apartments, the development has reversed progress in the area. It is now a neighborhood in decline.
Land that once hosted neighborhood gatherings and family reunions now houses large piles of rubble from demolished buildings, a source of embarrassment, rather than pride, to live nearby. What was once a beautifully tended garden for the community for decades is now a patch of dying grass littered with trash. One resident was displaced from her home of 30 years; the same home which she was raised. Why did she sell? Well, she did not. Her landlord sold it to the city and in turn, she received no compensation or relocation assistance. But, years after the fact, her home is still vacant.
Sadly, for a number of affected residents, this is not the first time. Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere” displaced 1,500 residents before the road project was halted, never to be completed. There are now blocks of broken concrete and construction debris in abandoned lots that were once people’s yards. The promise to use twenty percent of the “luxury” buildings for affordable housing likely sounded good at the time. But on move-in day, one resident could already hear a leak, and reported that the cabinets were already falling apart.
Against a sleek new building that is already falling apart, there may be no greater contrast with the historic homes still facing the threat of additional government “help” or lack thereof. In a house owned by people of color as far back as the 1920s, the current resident of 30 years painted a mural on the outside for everyone to see, stating: “SAVE OUR BLOCK. Black Neighborhoods Matter. Losing my home is like a death to me. Eminent Domain law is violent” a very powerful message to the government.
Jaisal Noor and Brandon Soderberg. (2021, December 16). ’eminent domain is violent’: Poppleton residents show the city what development looks like for Black Baltimoreans. The Real News Network. Retrieved January 2, 2022, from https://therealnews.com/eminent-domain-is-violent-poppleton-residents-show-the-city-what-development-looks-like-for-black-baltimoreans