Letters to the Editor, Oct. 7, 2020

Submitted photo/City of Cambridge
Housing is a hot topic in Cambridge, especially now that campaigns for city council and mayor are underway. In the meantime, the city is completing Phase I of its Pine Street Revitalization program. Seen above is the demolition of 522 High Street.

Examining housing
Cambridge housing was cited as the top issue by virtually every candidate in recent League of Women Voter forums where each candidate was provided a platform to answer questions from the community. There are no simple solutions.

The League of Women Voters left a report on Cambridge housing in 1969 in the time capsule opened last summer. That report points to problems that persist today, including insufficient code enforcement and housing in the rental market that is below habitable standards.
A Cambridge Neighborhood Revitalization Plan was published in July 2019 that recognizes and addresses some of the same problems, from the Pine St perspective, leveraging a market analysis from March 2019. The plan describes a process that retires substandard or vacant properties, featuring a land bank concept, calls for increased code enforcement, and a housing trust fund, as well as incentives and support for increased affordable home ownership. Implementing such a process will be very challenging, but a process is what is needed.

Candidates at the recent LWV forum agreed there was a problem, most noted the need for more code enforcement, and few recognized the role of a land bank process. I was disappointed that none cited the Cambridge Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, and was disturbed by one proposal by mayoral candidate Andrew Bradshaw to offer tax incentives to encourage landlords to improve housing.

It is often cited that over 50% of the housing units in Cambridge are rentals. What goes unsaid is that these business owners, the landlords, pay less in property tax than most every homeowner in Cambridge.
Fully 50% of rental properties are taxed at an assessed value of $25,000 or less. 50% of non-rental homeowners are taxed at $60,000 or more, and the average homeowner is assessed at about $140,000.
This means the typical landlord pays about $250 each year for city services while, homeowners pay typically more than twice that number. Those who are familiar with the city budget know that each residence receives over $1000 in city service value each year, while the average homeowner contributes over $1,000.

Housing subsidies are featured in the 1969 LWV report, and federal subsidies have and will play an important part in the Cambridge housing market. None the less, tax breaks are ineffective as candidate Bradshaw proposes them.
Tax breaks for developers who might be persuaded to prefer tenants displaced from poor quality housing could help shift residents to better conditions, but our ‘typical’ serious problem housing units will require more than a tax break of $250 per house to address them.
Federal subsidies and code enforcement can be used to enforce minimum standards and shield tenants from rent increases — while increasing the taxable value of the rental properties that receive substantial improvement. A process that builds new housing for displaced tenants, encourages landlords to improve conditions to receive increased, perhaps subsidized, rent and retires housing stock that is below livable standards will improve conditions for our residents — and increase the tax base.

I don’t want to discourage new ideas and I was encouraged by support for more comprehensive housing policy coming from Ward 1 candidates Sharon Smith and Brian Roche — and from a very encouraging new face in Ward 2, Lajan Cephas. Perhaps we can take a collective, closer looks at the Cambridge Neighborhood Revitalization Plan — and make a commitment to implement it.
Greg Boss

Hanson endorses Roche
As a long-serving member of the Cambridge City Council representing Ward 5, I enthusiastically endorse one candidate in particular. That candidate is Mr. Brian Roche, who is running for Ward 1.
Brian was born and raised in Cambridge, graduated from Swarthmore College, and returned here to live and work. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him come in front of the city council for years advocating for projects and organizational grants he’s partnered on and he’s always been well researched, treated the council with respect, and had everyone’s best interests in mind.

Maybe part of his success is that he’s always been a team player in the community. He has had success as far back as his involvement in school sports where I remember that he was undefeated during his high school tennis career and was a midfielder in high school soccer.
I believe he must have learned early on that building a team, not just going it alone, is the best path to reaching your goals.

Even with a similar platform as his opponent, the fundamental difference I see is how Mr. Roche has managed to accomplish a number of economic development and other city initiatives, often behind the scenes. We’ve had a lot of studies, plans, and ideas over the years and it’s a rare citizen that has been involved in so many of them that have come to fruition.

He has been instrumental in organizing and overseeing the planting of trees on Maryland Avenue and other areas of the city. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy which is responsible for the redevelopment of the Phillips Packing House, smokestacks, Cannery Park, and Cambridge’s first Rails-To-Trails.
He is founder and president of the Choptank Heritage Trail that advocates for safe streets, trails, and sidewalks and has successfully worked with local government and nonprofits to bring real change to Cambridge. He has been recognized as Volunteer of the Year by both Main Street and the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce.

Just as the most recent example, who else in the city can claim to have selflessly led the efforts to build a coalition of city, county, main street, state agencies, and a private property owner to build an environmentally friendly parking lot only because it was something that our comprehensive plan and watershed improvement plan said was needed?

How many citizens have even taken the time to read these plans? Brian was involved in this project because he saw it as an opportunity to promote downtown, to clean the bay, and to improve the connection from Pine Street to the new Harriett Tubman mural and the creek.
Brian can unite! This is an important and fundamental strength of his! There doesn’t appear to be a divisive bone in his body and he’s always encouraging projects and city initiatives that bring people together, provide results and make the entire city better. Brian always brings forth a coalition of interests and embraces ideas that have had strong community involvement and support.

Although my time is coming to an end on the city council, I’ve never been more excited about the future of Cambridge, and in my opinion Brian Roche is an example of the next generation of leadership. Cambridge’s youth have come back to town and are ready to get involved, celebrate our unique story, and lead! If you live in Ward 1, please vote for Brian Roche. If you’ve already mailed in your vote and want to change it, you can even come in and vote on Oct. 17, 7am to 7pm at Chesapeake College on Race Street.
Robbie Hanson, President
Cambridge City Council

Let Us Continue Moving
Hello Cambridge! Thanks to YOU the voters of the 4th ward, my friends throughout our community and by the grace of God I have been able to serve our community as your 4th ward city council member. I am asking once again for your support so I can keep working for you and we can keep our community moving in the right direction.
Although there have been many challenges this year and many more in years past, we have seen growth in Cambridge along with a real desire by many in and around Cambridge to make our community a better place for all of us to live and raise our families.

In the past four years I have seen the hard work and dedication of our city staff, citizen volunteers, business owners and our friends from the Maryland state government all working toward one goal, to make Cambridge the gem of the Eastern Shore that we all know it can be. We are a city on the move.
Our downtown business owners and businesses throughout our city have endured a very difficult year in 2020, one in which Cambridge has seen a new modern medical facility coming to fruition, the continued revitalization of Cambridge Marketplace, new small businesses open up all over our community, the expansion of a major manufacturing employer on Woods Rd. and the continued growth of our tourist industry. All while we have been held hostage to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank You to each one of our business leaders for your strong will to keep moving forward.

However, we still have lots to get done, such as finding a way for our children to have a better education including after school and weekend programs to support their growing needs. Also, we must keep working with the state to continue our Pine Street Neighborhood Revitalization project and our Waterfront Development plan both, of which are supported heavily by our friends in Annapolis.
We also have street, sidewalk, and blighted housing issues to fix while and at the same time we must help our Fire Department and Police Departments acquire the equipment and personnel they need to keep our Cambridge safe for everyone. Our city government needs an actual Human Resource Department and a qualified dedicated Grants Writer both of which will help our city government work more efficiently and effectively.
The city’s Economic Development personnel needs to work closely with not only our local business community but must also work with the county economic development department to market Cambridge’s natural resources to developers and investors not only from the region but around the world. We are a designated Opportunity Zone lets take advantage of that. I know investors are closely watching our progress.
All these needs and ideas I support, with your help and your vote I will continue to serve the community I grew up in and love. I will continue to be accessible and serve Cambridge in an honest and respectful way.
Representing all the residents of Cambridge is not a responsibility I have taken lightly and one in which I look forward to once more. I can be reached at dcannon@choicecambridge.com or you can call me directly at 443-477-4415.
Dave Cannon
4th Ward Commissioner

True Ballot made no mistake
On the ballots, we rely on the list provided by the Dorchester Board of Elections. The list they sent our vendor, True Ballot, had the 16 and 17 year old names and addresses.
I guess they forgot to take them out. The ballots were mailed on Thursday, Sept. 24. Both our offices started getting calls on Monday morning.
They combed through their list and advised us there were 51 names that should not have been sent to True Ballot. The last day to register for the city election was Sept. 28. They advised they took the names out of the final list they provided us on Sept. 29 so our vendor’s machine will red flag any that are sent in.
I want to make certain it is clear that True Ballot made no mistake in this process. He is relying on the information he receives from the Dorchester Board of Elections.
Patrick Comiskey
Cambridge City Manager