Smart Growth and Sustainable Development

Homeownership-handsAs Baltimore County becomes more diverse, we must work to create a stable, affordable, environment-friendly housing market.


Affordability and discrimination are real barriers to home ownership in Baltimore County. Over the past twenty years, our region has enjoyed the second highest-growth rate in per capita personal income among metropolitan areas in the country. But home ownership is down: twenty years ago, nearly 72 percent of us owned our own homes. Now, only 65 percent of us do. Here in Baltimore County property owners are allowed to discriminate against people with government vouchers. Baltimore County’s continuing sanction of blatant discrimination is not only a nationally recognized moral failure, it violates state statutes that expressly authorize inclusionary housing. It disproportionately affects our seniors and disabled community, who comprise over sixty percent of those with such vouchers. One result is that people with vouchers must wait nine years for housing in Baltimore County.

Part of the problem is that our current development model is too often dictated by developers, not community needs. Ten years ago, the Baltimore County Council released the Baltimore County 2020 Master Plan, a roadmap for how to increase jobs, housing, opportunities and tax revenue in Baltimore County through smart growth and sustainable development. Its guiding principle was compact, mixed-use, walkable design, consistent with the existing character of our community. Compact housing clusters are more affordable and walkable, but too often new development in Baltimore County contribute to sprawl, as developers have wrangled special deals and exceptions to the “smart growth” principles laid out in the plan through PUDs and other measures. Sprawl, compared to compact “smart” development, increases the cost of providing infrastructure and public services by 10-40 percent, increases car ownership and driving time by 20-50 percent, and reduces walking, cycling, and public transit use by up to 80 percent.

As councilwoman, Colleen will advocate for smart growth principles that can help redevelop our ailing commercial corridors, with new growth and mass transit hubs near job centers. Her goal is to create a stable, affordable, environment-friendly housing market. Affordable housing has a positive impact on educational outcomes for children, and mixed-income neighborhoods attract businesses and services with higher quality offerings for all of us. Walkable neighborhoods improve public health, the environment, and according to Walk Score, a service that measures the walkability of addresses across the country, can increase property values by thousands of dollars.

What can we do?

Pass the HOME Act.

The county already recognizes that there is a shortage of affordable housing units in the county and in 2016 signed a groundbreaking plan to dismantle decades of discriminatory housing policies. Colleen will support this HUD Conciliation Agreement and work to ensure that new residential developments increase the affordable housing stock in the county. She would support the HOME Act, which eliminates discrimination based on source of income.

Activate new partnerships.

Colleen will advocate for innovative partnerships and the use of new analytical tools to target and map Baltimore County’s equity needs. Partnerships between Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore’s Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicators Alliance, for example, have successfully mapped equity indicators for Frederick County. Similar partnerships with Towson University could do the same for Baltimore County. The county can also capitalize on proven effective analytical tools such as the Equity Baltimore Powermap, to help evaluate our neighborhoods based on a range of equity measures.

In addition, Colleen will support programs that create opportunities for interaction among residents from different backgrounds, such as cultural centers, outdoor markets, and community gardens, which help overcome stereotypes and fears and nurture positive interactions.

Recommit to the 2020 Master Plan.

Finally, rather than relying on PUDs to get around it, the county should re-commit to the Baltimore County 2020 Master Plan. Its principles of building smart, affordable housing will provide residents with the livable, walkable communities they deserve.

For more information

  • Mary Cunningham and G.McDonald (2012) Housing as a Platform for Improving Education Outcomes among Low-Income Children. Urban Institute
  • Todd Litman (2015) Analysis of Public Policies that unintentionally encourage and subsidize urban sprawl. London School of Economics – US Centre and Victoria Transport Policy Institute. 
  • Project for Public Spaces:
  • CityLab: