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Monday  •  April 12, 2021

“The Howard Hughes Corporation’s Ability to Control Cities Creates Tremendous Value”

By Steven Keller


The title of this post is a quote from a recent presentation by The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), one of Howard County’s largest developers.


In this presentation, the Howard Hughes CEO states,


Ownership and monopoly-like control of small cities allows HHC to create demand and control supply of commercial amenities – creating outsized risk-adjusted development opportunities for decades”


and proceeds to detail a “Virtuous cycle of value creation” as HHC’s neverending cycling of selling land for new home development fuels their future contracts to build commercial assets “at outsized returns”, with more residents [driving] more demand for commercial offerings and further demand to live in the community”.


All of this is highlighted as though it is a perpetual, unending cycle of profit and prosperity, with never-ending living space to be developed in Howard County and limitless infrastructure beyond “commercial assets” that will magically appear to support the ever-increasing supply of “more residents”. There is, of course, no mention of the school overcrowding and ever-shrinking school budget that results from this increasingly unsustainable overdevelopment, despite the fact that the school system is one of the reasons (arguably the #1 reason) that new residents flock to the area. Most HHC investors don’t actually live in Howard County.


The cynical, open way that the strategy of “[taking] ownership and monopoly-like control of small cities [like Columbia, MD]” is discussed and the casual way that HHC boasts of their “ability to control cities” to “create tremendous value” is refreshing, in a way.


While local developer leaders and their land use business associates strive to downplay their involvement in local affairs and their influence (control) over local government bodies & specific politicians, going so far as to label those who sound the alarm over this as “conspiracy theorists”, the national-level leadership of this company is openly boasting about this to provide confidence to their shareholders and convince future investors to open their wallets.


It’s no wonder that over 1/3 of the 2020 Howard County lobbyists were from HHC.


Here is some essential background reading that details just some of the ways that developer influence has negatively impacted the county in recent years, with complete disregard for the long-term sustainability of Howard County and its schools and other supporting infrastructure:


Developer Influence on 2019 HCPSS School Redistricting Process and Howard County School Overcrowding Crisis


Sweetheart Land Deals, Political Lobbyists, School Redistricting and BOE Elections


Concerning School-related recommendations by County Executive Ball’s Housing Opportunities Master Plan Task Force


There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but the bottom line is that Howard County residents need to open their eyes to the agendas at work around them and the underhanded ways that special interest groups and national corporations such as HHC are actively lobbying politicians and partnering with local activists in Bootlegger/Baptist style partnerships in order to grow their “ownership and monopoly-like control” of Columbia and Howard County as a whole.


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