McKay introduces bill to battle blight

This article first appears here on Cumberland Times News

CUMBERLAND — Sen. Mike McKay has introduced a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that he hopes will address blight before it takes hold.

McKay, a Republican, has teamed with Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Democrat, to introduce the Whole Homes Repair Act of 2023. If passed, the legislation would make grant funding available for homeowners with property in need of repairs.

McKay testified about the bill last week in front of the Senate Environment, Education and Energy Committee. He raised the issues of blight, workforce retention, seniors aging in place and emigration away from the area.

“When a house is falling down, that is not good for Republicans or Democrats living in the neighborhood,” McKay said during his testimony. “This is one of those issues that transcends political boundaries.”

A pilot program would make grants of up to $50,000 available to homeowners, or landlords owning no more than five properties, for repairs such as downspouts, roofing, windows and stairways.

McKay said the bipartisan bill is a statewide approach to help keep the current population in place. “The (program) is really at the intersection of a number of different issues, different paths but with the same mission: the eradication of poverty,” he said. “The home repairs also will improve energy efficiency and resident health and help fight displacement of low-income residents.”

The majority of the money for the program would be redirected from the federal government through programs like weatherization and home maintenance.

Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss also testified in favor of the bill.

“As soon as (McKay) told me about the bill I knew it was a good bill and that’s why I testified,” said Morriss. “I wanted to show the city of Cumberland and my support for the program. It will allow funding to help people with roofs, gutters, windows and porches … things like that. It will help them stay in their homes. It will also help us keep up the standards in our neighborhoods.”

McKay said he has spoken to officials in Maryland’s Housing and Community Development administration as well as Gov. Wes Moore’s office about the legislation.

“This fits right into one of the veins the governor spoke of in his State of the State, saying leave no one behind including the seniors in areas that have been economically challenged. So they are interested in this,” said McKay.

The cost of the program is estimated at $8 million, but it could receive added funding, according to McKay.

“If we get a pilot program, then the governor can decide how much money … to put into it,” he said. “There are similar programs in other states. This can be a game changer for towns and cities.”