MTA Red Line Meetings

Curious about the proposed Red Line and how it will benefit and/or affect your community?  There will be two open houses where residents can hear more about the Red Line and ask questions.

Thursday, September 18, 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Hampstead Hill Academy, 500 S. Linwood Avenue.

This meeting will cover Canton, Brewer’s Hill/Canton Crossing, Highlandtown/Greektown, Bayview Campus and Bayview MARC stations.

Saturday, September 20, 9:00 AM-12:00 PM
Lockerman Bundy Elementary School, 301 N. Pulaski Street
This meeting will cover Edmondson Village, Allendale, Rosemont, West Baltimore MARC, Harlem Park, and Poppleton stations.

Save the Date!

Silent Auction and Fundraiser

Please join us Friday, October 24th for a happy hour and silent auction to benefit Housing Policy Watch — our mapping, app development, community development, and other work towards making Baltimore a safer, more vibrant city for working families!

The event will be held at Gallery 788 in Hanpden.  Auction items include amazing art by some of Baltimore’s best-known artists, wonderful restaurants, and other fun things — you won’t want to miss this!

If you can’t attend the event, but want to make a tax-deductible contribution, please go here.

Maryland lead program opens registration for rental properties built before 1978

Currently, Maryland law requires rental properties built before 1950 to be registered with the Maryland Department of the Environment, and comply with risk reduction standards.  As of January 2015, all rental properties built before 1978 will now have to be registered.

This change in the law has the potential to greatly reduce the number of children in Maryland who are exposed to lead paint, particularly in Baltimore, where lead poisoning continues to be a problem.  From the MDE:

The number of childhood lead poisoning cases has decreased by 98 percent since the enactment of Maryland’s landmark 1994 Lead Risk Reduction in Housing Act, but a significant number of new lead poisoning cases in recent years have been linked to pre-1978 homes that had not been covered by the law.

You can find more information about MDE’s registration process, and the law here.

Maryland Court Orders Houston Slumlord to Clean Up Baltimore Blight

Reported in the Baltimore Sun by Natalie Sherman:

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge has ordered an absentee Baltimore landlord to clean up about 50 blighted properties within 90 days, the first ruling since a state law was amended two years ago to make it easier for community groups to sue the owners of problem properties.

Judge Pamela J. White found that 49 properties owned by Scott Wizig and corporate affiliates represented legal nuisances, with “unsafe and uninhabitable” conditions that have not been fixed despite requests by community groups and notices of violations of the building code. Community groups are “entitled” to a judgement, she wrote in the July 31 order.

Congratulations to the Community Law Center on this win for Baltimore communities affected by Mr. Wizig’s shoddy business practices.  Hopefully this will spawn more lawsuits against our “homegrown” slumlords who own large amounts of blighted properties in our neighborhoods — and hopefully once Mr. Wizig has cleaned up his neglected properties, he’ll leave town.

You can read the full Sun article here.

Clinic Saturation is Bad for Patients, Bad for Neighborhoods

As Baltimore continues to try to re-shape itself, an increase in social-service businesses, particularly methadone clinics, have started to pop up in a handful of neighborhoods, to the dismay of neighbors. While everyone agrees that drug treatment facilities are sorely needed in Baltimore City, particularly as the poverty rate climbs, it’s unfair to burden a tiny selection of neighborhoods with the majority of clinics and treatment centers.

The folks from the Central Baltimore Partnership sent out an email that resonated with me, since I live in Pigtown (home of one of the city’s largest treatment centers, Baltimore Behavioral health) and I also often work in Central Baltimore.  I think it’s important to realize these aren’t a bunch of NIMBY’s — in fact, I think they have some valid points, and other neighborhoods should be open to the idea of treating their addicts closer to home. I definitely agree the burden should be spread around the city, and not concentrated in a small handful of communities, particularly communities that are walking a fine line between healthy and not.

This is their email (reprinted with permission, slightly edited for clarity), along with a petition that I encourage you to sign if you live in Central Baltimore:

Central Baltimore Partnership has started the petition “Joshua Sharfstein: Recognize Clinic Saturation (concentration) is Harmful For Patients – Consider Location Before Citing New Clinics.” and need your help to get it off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now?

Here’s why the petition is important:

  • Too many clinics concentrated in one geographic area has negative repercussions for patients and for the neighborhoods surrounding the concentration of clinics.
  • We would like to see the problem addressed with smaller, localized treatment centers that increase the opportunity for patient recovery, decrease the stigmatization of treatment, and reduce that unhealthy and often dangerous ecosystem that develops around the mega-clinics.

We have become increasingly concerned with the unintended consequences of placing too many treatment facilities and treatment slots servicing too many patients in the same area. We appreciate that many clinic operators are doing critically important work addressing very real substance abuse issues in the city of Baltimore, but we believe that the concentration has enabled and even caused the development of an ecosystem of street drug use, dealers, and predators in the neighborhood that is bad for the patients and bad for the community.

We have analyzed data from the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and see that in excess of 80% of the patients being served at methadone clinics in zip code 21218 come from other zip codes – from the standpoint of demand vs. supply, we are over-served, and we are not the only neighborhood that has fallen into this trap.

Conversely, the data shows that there are major sections of Baltimore City (and Baltimore County) that are underserved, with many patients but few or no neighborhood treatment options. We would like to see the problem addressed with smaller, localized treatment centers that increase the opportunity for patient recovery, decrease the stigmatization of treatment, and reduce that unhealthy and often dangerous ecosystem that develops around the mega-clinics.

We do not blame the patients – in fact, our concern and compassion for those seeking substance abuse treatment guides us in our decisions and recommendations just as much as our concern for the residents and business that call Central Baltimore their home. We believe that a community can be a lifeboat for those in need of substance abuse treatment, but that the clinics in Central Baltimore have packed too many people in a single boat, jeopardizing all.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

MDE Issues Enforcement Actions Against 14 Baltimore City Property Owners for Lead Paint Violations

MDE’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program serves as the coordinating agency for statewide efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning. Under the 1994 “Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act,” MDE assures compliance with mandatory requirements for lead risk reduction in rental units built before 1950, maintains a statewide listing of registered and inspected units and provides blood lead surveillance through a registry of test results of all children tested in Maryland. Alleged violations typically involve a failure to register properties or meet lead risk-reduction standards. The following actions were for properties alleged to be out of compliance with lead risk-reduction standards:

  • Renovations By Design, LLC – Eight affected properties – On March 31, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $33,000 for alleged violations.
  • Amity Ramble Apartments, LLC and Haynes Properties, Inc. – 38 affected properties – On April 10, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $65,000 for alleged violations.
  • Winston W. White – Five affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $27,500 for alleged violations.
  • Harold K. Sanders – Three affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $33,000 for alleged violations.
  • Patrick A. Agbu and Rita I. Agbu – Eight affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $55,000 for alleged violations.
  • Monkelien Properties, LLC – 21 affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $55,000 for alleged violations.
  • Marsha Louise Johnson Gladden – 18 affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $40,000 for alleged violations.
  • Vaughn B. Parker – 13 affected properties – On April 21, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $50,000 for alleged violations.
  • Young Ok Ahn Jung – One affected property – On April 22, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $31,000 for alleged violations.
  • BH Property Management, LLC – One affected property – On April 29, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $44,000 for alleged violations.
  • Pedro P. Quiroz and Maria Quiroz – One affected property – On May 9, 2014, MDE issued an Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $45,000 for alleged violations.
  • Hutzler’s Historic Associates – One affected property – On March 20, 2014, MDE entered into a Settlement Agreement and Consent Order to resolve alleged violations of Maryland’s lead law. The defendant agreed to a penalty of $50,000. The penalty has been paid in full.
  • American Equity Holdings Operations, LLC – 11 affected properties – On April 22, 2014, MDE entered into a Settlement Agreement and Consent Order to resolve alleged violations of Maryland’s lead law. The defendant agreed to a penalty of $6,000.
  • Benjamin Bridges, Jr., and Sandra Bridges – Seven affected properties – On May 6, 2014, MDE entered into a Settlement Agreement and Consent Order to resolve alleged violations of Maryland’s lead law. The defendants agreed to a penalty of $5,000.

You can read the full list here, including violations in other jurisdictions in Maryland.

The Time for Affordable Housing is NOW.

Millions of Americans are paying more than 30% of their net monthly income for housing costs, resulting in overburdened households in danger of falling into poverty, if they’re not there already.

Rent Burden for Baltimore region
Rent Burden for Baltimore region

In the Baltimore region, according to the new report released today by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, almost 50% of renters in the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson Metro Area are cost-burdened — this equates to 170,532 households that are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads.   You can access the full map here, showing the cost burdens of households across the country.

If we do not act quickly and implement a housing plan for middle-income renters, our municipal and state budgets will become even more burdened when people are having to resort to receiving assistance, just to pay the rent.  Or worse, when they’re homeless.  It costs far less to keep someone out of poverty than it does to bring them back once they’ve fallen into the abyss.

Contact your City Council representative and let them know you’re tired of overpriced condo developments and you want them to support fair and affordable housing for middle-income working families!

 

Urge the City Council to Support Neighborhood Commercial Zoning

Sidewalk cafe
Sidewalk cafe

Picture your neighborhood full of vibrant shops, locally-owned
restaurants, interesting galleries, and other great spaces within walking distance of your house. If you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood that already has these things — imagine what our city could look like if every neighborhood had the same great opportunities.

Neighborhood Commercial zoning is the subject of an article in today’s Baltimore Sun — this would allow for a limited set of business types to move into neighborhoods that are zoned residential, under a set of guidelines called The Row House Mixed Use Overlay (link opens a PDF).  Former vacant “corner stores” could be turned into viable businesses that your community needs and wants.

Unfortunately, some City Council members are against this, and some would like to see it watered down.  To ensure the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, please contact your City Council representative and ask them to please support small businesses in Baltimore — the entrepreneurial spirit is what made our city great once, and can make our city great once again.  We can’t only support big development and big developers, we need people to truly invest in their communities, and what better way for residents to be able to open businesses where they live?

Please support this vital tool for making our neighborhoods safe and vibrant for all residents.

A Misstep at City Hall?

Today, our Planning Department is holding a hearing on a bill that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against those who receive rental assistance from the government:  Section 8 or Housing Choice Vouchers.  While I applaud the City’s efforts to address the low-income housing issue, I fail to see how this will have any real impact.

My question lies with the enforcement of this bill — something that has been reviewed by the City’s Law Department (link opens a PDF), yet nobody has seen fit to examine the fact that state agency charged with enforcement is in charge of enforcing Maryland law, not local ordinances.  This issue is similar to the one brought up regarding Montgomery County’s minimum wage bill.  A state agency’s role is to enforce state law — this is stated in the MCCR’s mission, several times:

It is the mission of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights to ensure opportunity for all through the enforcement of Maryland’s laws…

The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) represents the interest of the State to ensure equal opportunity for all through enforcement of Titles 20 of the State Government Article, and 19 of the State Procurement & Finance Article, Annotated Code of Maryland.

You will note that it mentions nothing about local ordinances.  Also, under the MCCR’s mission, it lists the following:

Its mandate is to protect against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation and genetic information. In housing cases, discrimination based on familial status is also unlawful.

Nowhere in the list does it mention source of income.  At present, it is not against the law for a landlord to refuse to accept a tenant who is receiving rental assistance — over the past two years, various housing advocates and Maryland Delegates have attempted to pass a source of income bill, and both times the bill has failed to pass the legislature.

While I am in favor of protecting the rights of our most vulnerable citizens, particularly when it comes to housing — I think the City is doing those citizens a grave injustice by attempting to pass what amounts to an unenforceable local ordinance that will have little to no impact on behalf of these citizens.  If the City Council and housing advocates want to have a meaningful impact on the lives of Baltimore residents, particularly our very poor and elderly, they need to go back to the drawing board next year and pass a source of income bill that will be enforceable statewide.