Baltimore Officials Reach Agreement for Lower-Incoming Housing in Covington Port
On September 14th, six members of the Baltimore City Board of Estimates approved of a $100 million deal with developers for the Covington Port project. The Covington Port project, which was initially proposed by Under Armor founder Kevin Plank and recently signed by city officials, promises to bring to Baltimore new parks, improved interstate roadways, a state-of-the-art headquarters for Under Armor, and thousands of local jobs – and lower-income housing now, too.
Aside from hosting the clothing industry giant itself, the 260-acre Port Covington project hopes to further boost the local economy by attracting the many different manufacturing companies and other close affiliates of Under Armor as well, in addition to other restaurants and shops. To accommodate the projected increase in workforce needs, the Baltimore spending panel allotted $25 million to build a Port Covington training center. Negotiations are still underway to establish the minimum number of city residents that these new businesses must employ.
In the meantime, developers have agreed to use Baltimore City construction workers to erect at least 30 percent of Port Covington’s infrastructure, and will pay them at least $17.48 an hour to do so. In addition, at least 20 percent of the overall housing must be dedicated to the poor and the middle-class.
Proponents, however, fear that these provisions will not be fully upheld. They are critical of what they feel is a “loophole” in the agreement that potentially allows developers to pay into a general fund instead of building lower-income housing units for families who make less than $26 thousand a year. This could possibly enable developers to renege on as much as half of the proposed lower-income housing to save costs.
The agreement also comes just days after the City Council voted against a bill on September 12th that would have forced any developer to build lower-income housing if they receive taxpayer money. Under the existing law, fewer than 40-lower income housing units have been provided by developers in nearly ten years. With this statistic in mind, proponents fear that lower-income housing in Covington Port could suffer the same fate.
Those against the project also cite the need to pay higher wages to union construction workers first, fearing that strikes and delays are nearly unavoidable in the future at the current rate of pay. Two unions have already agreed to the wages for now, and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said that “the door is not shut” to other unions who are ready to negotiate.
The final argument against Covington Port comes from concerned parents of public school students, who fear that the $100 million will have to come from other areas of the city’s budget. “City Council members should ask the Port Covington developers for a binding agreement that funding for Baltimore City schools will not be affected for the next 40 years,” wrote Katie Riback in a Baltimore Sun editorial letter. “Otherwise, Port Covington will be built on the backs of Baltimore’s public school students.
Overall, Baltimore City Mayor Rawlings-Blake has said that she is “very pleased” with the agreement, though she sympathizes with the concerns of housing and labor advocates.
“I don’t think what they’re asking for is unreasonable,” the mayor said. “Their concerns have been heard loud and clear from the beginning.”
When speaking on exactly how new businesses will be held responsible for hiring local residents at a decent wage, Bernard C. “Jack” Young said, “We’re going to hold their feet to the fire”.
To do this, an auditor will ensure that Kevin Plank follows through on his pledge to hire locally.
Though this agreement is only the latest in a long series of hurdles, city officials remain confident that the Port Covington project will one-day benefit Baltimore by supplying local jobs, lower-income housing, and increased employment opportunities for all.