Maryland Gov. Wes Moore Testifies For Bills Aimed At Making Housing More Affordable

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore testifies in support of legislation aimed at making housing more affordable and protecting renters during a bill hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Annapolis, Md. The governor testified before the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee on legislation he is prioritizing this legislative session to make increase quality housing supply in the state. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore testifies in support of legislation aimed at making housing more affordable and protecting renters during a bill hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Annapolis, Md. The governor testified before the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee on legislation he is prioritizing this legislative session to make increase quality housing supply in the state. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore testified Tuesday in support of measures aimed at making housing more affordable and protecting renters, some of the governor's top priorities this legislative session.

Moore, a Democrat, told lawmakers that the state is facing “a true housing crisis," largely due to a lack of housing supply. He said that's holding back the state's economic growth as well as making it more expensive to live in Maryland.

“This legislation that we will work on together will help spur new housing construction, enhance long-term financial investments in low-income areas, help the state move in partnership with local governments instead of being in constant conflict with them, centralize resources for Maryland renters and get our economy moving again,” Moore said.

One of the measures backed by the governor endeavors to increase the state’s housing supply by incentivizing construction and removing barriers to development. To do that, the bill would modernize land-use law and simplify approval for transit-oriented development, as well as development on former state-owned complexes, and housing development by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, which are created to revitalize communities, particularly impoverished ones.

The bill would incentivize the development of these projects by allowing greater density when certain conditions are met.

The governor said his administration has been careful to work with local officials on the proposals. With an estimated shortage of 96,000 housing units, Moore said the state has to be able to work together with local jurisdictions to address that kind of shortage.

“This is a piece of legislation that is not heavy-handed," Moore told the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee. "It really more works hand-in-hand.”

Another measure would strengthen state financing tools for housing and community development. The bill would create an independent quasi-government unit called the Maryland Community Investment Corporation to invest in low-income communities. It also would apply for federal tax credits.

The Housing and Community Development Financing Act also expands the eligible uses of the state's Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund to include debt payments and credit enhancement. The fund was created in 2016 to provide grants and loans for revitalization projects.

“Together these bills will help us to build new homes so we can narrow the supply gap," Moore testified. “We can strengthen our economy for the long-term and we can create new pathways from poverty to prosperity.”

Moore also testified in support of a measure to protect renters. It would increase the maximum surcharge imposed by courts from $8 to $93 for landlords to evict tenants for failing to pay rent. Half of the revenue would go into the Statewide Rental Assistance Voucher Program, and the other half would go to the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, which is used to finance civil legal services to indigent clients.

The bill also would create an Office of Tenant Rights that would provide renters with information about their rights and create a Tenant Bill of Rights. The measure also would reduce the allowable security deposit from two months’ rent to one month.

The legislation also modifies the state’s new rental voucher program to provide prioritization of vouchers for families with children under the age of 5 and pregnant women.

The bill also would allow renters the right to purchase their home, if it is being sold, by creating a right of first refusal.