Can Building Bridges Lead to Building Housing? 

By Lisa May
The Director of Housing and Consumer Affairs for Maryland REALTORS®

Newly elected officials face a steep learning curve on procedure and policy. Statewide officials in Maryland enlist transition teams of policy specialists to aid them on both fronts so that they can get up to speed quickly.  

This is the case with the Moore-Miller administration and housing policy. Both REALTORS® and Maryland REALTORS® staff served as members of the Housing Transition Committee, which began meeting after the November elections.  

Neither candidate for governor campaigned on an explicit platform of housing proposals, though Governor Moore signaled some interest through his focus on improving equity and generational wealth for minority populations. That interest has expanded into four policy priority areas for the transition. They include: 

  1. Removing Barriers to Housing by combatting redlining and discrimination in appraisals, providing tools and resources for Black families to buy and keep their homes, and enhancing protections for renters. 
  1. Expanding Affordable Housing options for seniors, creating dedicated funding for the Maryland Housing Trust Fund, and producing more affordable housing units. 
  1. Emphasizing Smart Growth and Community Development projects to guide the state’s growth and revitalization. 
  1. Focusing on Climate and Healthy Housing by competing for federal funding and ensuring safe housing for Marylanders. 

In addition to providing feedback on the Administration’s priorities, Maryland REALTORS® also submitted to the transition team its own policy initiatives to expand housing supply, equity, and opportunity.  

On the supply side, REALTORS® encouraged the state to champion several of the relatively easy prescriptions to jump-start housing production. Those include wider adoption of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), removing barriers to adaptive reuse of outdated commercial spaces, and incentivizing additional density to create mixed-use and mixed-income housing options.  

Maryland is falling behind other states in the deployment of each of those tactics, which has contributed to our current housing shortage. Especially when you consider that those tools require little to no direct government subsidy to implement, it is our contention that it is time for Maryland to rejoin the ranks of housing innovators. 

For housing equity and opportunity, REALTORS® echoed the call to address biases within the appraisal process and publicize the remedies that consumers have when they have been subject to unfair practices. This includes expanding our work with both the Commission on Civil Rights and the Maryland Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies and Home Inspectors to promote their enforcement efforts.  

Protections for renters can be a dicey topic for REALTORS®, as proposals often comes at the expense of our small landlords and property managers. While we continue to oppose broad rent control measures, there are steps that Maryland can take to reduce rental increases on tenants. We have proposed an expansion of the existing Renter’s Property Tax Credit program or implementation of a homestead-type credit for lower-income landlords to ease the sharp increases in rental property values that push rents upward.  

Finally, Maryland REALTORS® called for a renewed investment in two programs that serve first-time homebuyers.  

The Maryland Mortgage Program offers several products to help first-time and minority borrowers with down payments, closing costs and student loan debt. However, adoption among lenders is hampered by lower-than-industry-standard lender compensation and added regulatory requirements. By addressing these issues, more borrowers could take advantage of the program’s offerings. 

REALTORS® also championed the creation of First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts with 2021’s HB 1778. If you haven’t heard much about them, you aren’t alone. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has not had budgetary resources to promote their availability as required under the law. This presents an opportunity for our industry to work collaboratively with the General Assembly’s budgeting committees and state agencies to raise awareness of First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts with the public.  

Our work with the Moore administration during the transition highlights not just the above priorities, but also valuable insights and resources that REALTORS® can provide in the policy-making process. By building bridges with our new state officials, we can begin the process of building the housing options Maryland so desperately needs.