Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bandage on Symptons

The Baltimore Sun’s October 16, 2008 headline read “20-YEAR LIFE GAP SEPARATE CITY'S POOREST, WEALTHY" and disclosed the life span difference between residents of Hollins Market and Roland Park in Baltimore. The article went on to say that “at the extreme, the difference in mortality rates between some neighborhoods is as wide as the disparity in life expectancy between the United States and a Third World nation such as Burma.”

The disparity is shameful, but of much greater concern are the solutions discussed: public health initiatives, homicide prevention, increasing public housing, lifestyle changes and social sensitivity, among others. These solutions are more like bandages on symptoms than cures to a fundamental illness. What is done to remedy a problem must be based on causes, not symptoms.

Tucked in the article itself is an insight into the cause of the life expectancy disparity: “life expectancy tends to rise with median income..For every increase of $10,000 in a neighborhood's median household income, residents lived 3.4 years longer.” Income disparities are the cause of life expectancy disparities. Since the cause of the disparity is economic, the elimination of life expectancy disparities is economic.

Real solutions therefore require increased capital, small business development, banking and financial infrastructure, recirculation of capital, and jobs. This approach would work in Burma, and Hollins Market as well.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Wall Street - as with many government, quasi-government, and much of the social and financial infrastructure - is dead. Any system which cannot respond, purposively, to its environment is not alive, and cannot respond no matter what stimuli.

The principal purpose of Wall Street was to mobilize and allocate capital for business enterprise. The nature of the economy has shifted from industry to services and government. Unlike an industrial economy, output of a services and government-based economy is hard to measure. Hence the productivity of capital becomes an enigma with no measures that can be directly linked to output, effect and efficiency of a business.

In reaction to this new reality, most government, quasi government and financial systems have increased regulation focused on eliminating abuses, cheats and possible fraudulent behavior as measurement of productivity. When this happens, systems die, purposively, because the focus becomes more on the process than the purpose: New Orleans, homeland security, efforts to eliminate poverty and economically empower the poor and minorities, efforts to save Wall Street etc. All of these efforts fail to achieve their purpose because the arteries of these systems are clogged with red tape, paper work, rules, regulations, sub optimization, duplication, and the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The point is, purposive focus is displaced with regulatory activities. In the absence of hard goals and output measures, systems die of their own lack of purposive focus.

The only way to save Wall Street - and prevent this crisis from recurring - is to redefine what its goals are in the expansion of capital to meet future needs. If such definition had been made, mortgages would never have been viewed as securities to be traded and speculated on Wall Street. It would have been clear that the highest purpose of a mortgage is to facilitate home ownership; widespread home ownership then fosters demand for capital to produce housing, not vice versa.


Governor Martin O’Malley,
Senator Barbara Mikulski,
Mayor Sheila Dixon.

I noticed an article in which the Mayor and Governor of the state of Maryland and the senior US Senator from Maryland were celebrating the building of 5 new houses in the Oliver section of Baltimore City (Baltimore Sun, 7/29/08). While political mileage is being made from such efforts, the actual policy of both Baltimore City and Baltimore County governments is to systematically drive community based builders and contractors out of business. These businesses could be a real solution to the fundamental needs of these communities for economic empowerment. My personal plea is that adverse policies and conditions which affect the survival of community based builders and contractors be investigated and corrected immediately. I can produce 25 affordable houses with no governmental help whatsoever.

It appears that only the insiders, the low income housing experts, tax credit traders have a shot at the housing and development business in the Baltimore region.

As a community based builder I am experiencing the following problems:
1. Denial of building permits based on contrived rules or unauthorized acts by public officials.

a. Baltimore County – holding up a building permit for a single family house on an existing lot of record since May 2, 2008. Requiring a development plan, curb, gutter, sidewalk, bonding and inspection procedures costing $45,000 extra and 18 months time requires engineered drawings, drawing approval, bonding, hiring utility contractor, installation of curb, gutter and sidewalk, inspections, approvals and a return of bond one year after completion, for one (1) house on one (1) lot. Appeals unanswered – Department of Public Works, Office of Fair Practices, Office of County Executive, Councilman Kamenetz, and Councilman Oliver.

b. Baltimore City – stopping work (overnight) where a legal building permit had been issued based on proven false statements by a sediment control inspector who openly falsified field conditions, terms of the building permit and exceeded his authority by issuing a “stop work” when he should have issued a correction notice. By this inspector’s own words he was responding to come complaints from some people in the community and not following the rules.

Despite proven factual realities and appeals to Housing Inspection Chief, Housing and Community Development (Ombudsman), Mayor’s Office, Rep. Cummings, etc. there has been no resolution or attempt to resolve the issue and release the building permit in over a year.

2. Regularly, we have been required to follow the most expensive, complex and time consuming procedures to build or develop property.

a. Required by Baltimore County to install a sewer main in order to build one (1) house. This house, being a corner location, could have been served by a house connection which is one tenth (1/10) the cost of a sewer main.

b. Stopped from minor subdivision of property because the Baltimore County Public Works said there “may be” a problem with sewer flow downstream of the site. Would not answer questions regarding nature and extent of problem, ie. how two (2) more houses would exacerbate problem and why subdivision process could not proceed because the sewer capacity problem was only relevant to the building stage and could be managed then stonewalled.

3. Denied prequalified utility contractor license by Baltimore County since April 2007
• Despite successful completion of projects
• Personal experience of principals

Generally I have experienced an unbridled arrogance on the part of many public officials who frequently disrespect and violate their own rules. This opens the door to graft, retribution and discrimination.

If anyone should know and respect the rules it is those whose job it is to enforce them. The record of Baltimore County and City speaks for itself. My problems as a community based builder are validated by the general absence of entrepreneurs, financial infrastructure, a proactive regulatory climate, and sustainable small business development and employment in these economically deserted communities. Five new houses in the Oliver Community is good for five families but the economic power of that housing production did not foster needed capital, recirculation of capital, business development and resultant employment opportunities.

Generally free enterprise and competition can solve these problems. Specifically we need our permits so that we can go to work, providing jobs, taxes, and economic hope to the community.