Thinking About 2015

Photo of Maryland State House, Annapolis
State House, Annapolis, MD

It’s never too early to start thinking about legislative priorities for 2015.  We have a few issues that we’ll be working on, just in time for the start of Maryland’s legislative session in January, and we want to hear your priorities, too:

  • LLC transparency
  • Transfer of real estate
  • Historic preservation
  • Affordable housing, based on local economics
  • Better vetting and enforcement for purchasers of City-owned property

Why these are important

LLC transparency is something we’ve pushed for in the past two legislative sessions, yet the bill introduced by Delegate Steve Lafferty has yet to pass.  Some have suggested the bill is anti-business, which is entirely untrue.

Giving residents a way to contact businesses, including property owners, that do not operate a brick-and-mortar storefront or office is actually a sound business practice.  It opens the door for communication between business/property owners and the public, and could potentially allow for far less government involvement, as issues could be resolved faster and easier, without fines or court proceedings. This bill could save businesses a lot of money in the long run.

Property transfers, particularly in Baltimore City, have not been closely monitored. In many instances, properties are “flipped” between buyers who do not record their deeds, and therefore do not pay the transfer fees to the state or to the City, and it allows negligent property owners to hide behind the previous owner’s information. This results in more work on the part of Baltimore Housing’s Code Enforcement and Legal divisions, and more frustration on the part of residents who experience issues with these properties and cannot find accurate ownership information.

Historic preservation, particularly in a city like Baltimore that seems to be experiencing an identity crisis — especially over the past decade or so — is important to creating a sustainable city. Knocking down our historic structures, or leaving them to rot, is not a development strategy.  We must celebrate and build on Baltimore’s history, in order to move forward in a sustainable way. We would like to see more money allocated to neighborhood historic preservation, and less allocated to development projects that do not reflect the needs of current residents — particularly in our more marginalized neighborhoods.

Affordable rental housing is a top priority for 2015.  Baltimore has a median income of $40,000, yet “affordable” housing rental rates are based on a percentage of the Metropolitan Statistical Area median income, set by HUD.  This number does not take into account the local economic climate of each municipality, and therefore sets a “fair market” rent that is out of reach of most residents, especially those who do not qualify for subsidized housing. We must shore up our middle class in order to create a broader tax base. Otherwise, we can expect more attempts to cut services like the fire department, rec centers, parks, and trash collection.

Monitoring the vetting of who is purchasing city-owned property has become a growing concern over the past two years. The City created its Vacants to Value program in 2010, with much fanfare.  However, research into who is purchasing the city-owned vacants paints a not-so-rosy picture. The largest “company” purchaser…is the city’s Housing Authority.  The largest individual purchaser is a disbarred attorney who testified in Federal Court that he and a group of other attorneys participated in a municipal auction bid-rigging scheme.  Taxpayers cannot continue footing the bill for court proceedings and sham municipal auctions — we need to clear the way for honest businesses and honest individuals who want to call our city home.

What are your 2015 priorities?  Because this is a resident-driven project, send your thoughts — we want to make sure as many voices are included as possible.

Join Us! October 24, 7 to 11 PM

Please join us for Pretty Vacant: A Silent Auction and Fundraiser, October 24th from 7 to 11 PM.  Featuring art from some local and international artists, food, drinks — the event is being held at Gallery 788, 3602 Hickory Avenue, in Hampden.  The event is free, but come prepared to bid!  Proceeds to benefit Housing Policy Watch, and a portion of your winning bid is tax deductible!

Featured Artists:

Please use the Eventbrite page or Facebook event page to RSVP.

 

 

Much Ado About Mapping

map_screenWe’ve been having a great time working on the neighborhood maps, and so far have compiled two small maps, and are working on a larger map of vacant properties city-wide.

Many residents have offered their help with data gathering, which has been great — it’s much more reliable to have eyes on these properties, rather than relying on census data or a quick drive-by. I didn’t want this to become just another regurgitation of the City’s Vacant Building Notice list, but a way to discuss the larger problems residents deal with on a daily basis.

To make things even more interesting, there’s also an app in the works (based on OpenData Kit) that will help with data collection.  If you’re interested in working on this project, please shoot us an email!  If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to support our data collection and mapping efforts, please go here.

 

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.