On January 4th I introduced Bill 1-16 at the County Council’s first Legislative Session of the year. I consider the legislation to be of landmark importance, and wanted to be sure to share the reasoning behind the bill with the community.
As we slowly come out of the worst national recession many of us have ever experienced, the talk of national recovery is in the air and many are cautiously optimistic about the future. Even the housing market is beginning to show signs of recovery, or at the very least a suspension of the downward spiral that destroyed so many futures. Locally, we have a number of reasons to be looking forward to our future. But, among all of this, I believe one group has been especially overlooked: the people responsible for the freedoms we enjoy – our military veterans.
Nearly half a million veterans live in Maryland, with about 55,000 residing in Baltimore County, the second most of all of Maryland’s counties. As vets return home, they face enormous challenges in their transition to civilian life. Veteran’s Affairs benefits are stretched thin, so the challenges to assist our heroes fall on the shoulders of nonprofit groups who help with issues such as adjustment to the civilian workforce, combat related disabilities (which 15% of our vets come home with,) and the 5% of veterans who live in abject poverty when they fall through the cracks. Housing is largely unaddressed by these veterans organizations or the VA itself, and I am proud to be the lead sponsor Bill 1-16 that enables the creation of “veteran’s only” housing in Baltimore County by establishing our military veterans as a protected class for housing, much like senior citizens.
As is often the case with legislation, 1-16 amends the current county code. Section 29, “Human Relations”, prohibits discrimination against specific groups. The bill defines “veterans”, adds them to the groups, and makes them a protected housing class.
It is important to note that while the bill enables the opportunity for the creation of veteran’s only housing, it does not guarantee it. The market will ultimately determine if a veteran’s housing project is viable in the 7th District or anywhere else in Baltimore County. This brings me to the subject of the Fort Howard property. While 1-16 is not being offered to advance any specific project at Fort Howard or anywhere else, it could have positive ramifications for what we would like to see happen there.
Our vision for Fort Howard is, and always has been, to return to a veterans focus for the property which was originally gifted to veterans. This bill creates an opportunity for that to happen, but, again, does not
guarantee it. Currently, no development can occur at Fort Howard; by rejecting the Planned Unit Development application and then raising the property for a zoning issue during the 2016 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, we have essentially facilitated a necessary “re-visioning” of the future of Fort Howard. With the passing of 1-16, we will, at the very least, have what we do not have now, which is the potential of veteran’s only housing on the former home to the Fort Howard VA hospital.
The Council dedicated the bill in the memory of Mr. Al Clasing, a longtime, passionate advocate for veterans who recently passed away. The bill was discussed at the Council Work Session on Jan 26 and was passed unanimously during the Legislative Session on Feb 1.
As always, I invite your comments, questions and concerns. Contact us via email at or 410-887-3383.