As Temperatures Drop…

BCFD on Ward Street in Pigtown, 2013
BCFD on Ward Street in Pigtown, 2013

…instances of fatal fires and carbon monoxide poisoning go up.  Don’t add to these dreadful statistics — be proactive and keep your family safe.

Baltimore City residents can call 311 or go online to request smoke detectors. The fire department will bring and install them — for free. You should have one on every floor of the house, and make a plan for what happens should one go off in the middle of the night.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that can be deadly. The biggest sources of carbon monoxide in the home are the furnace, cars left running in an attached garage, boilers, and dirty/blocked chimneys. Before using your fireplace, have your chimney checked for debris or cracks! You should also have a CO detector/alarm on every floor of the house. They can be purchased online or in stores for not a lot of money — and they save lives.

If you cannot afford your energy bills this winter, please don’t wait until your BGE is turned off for nonpayment.  Go here to get more information on energy assistance in Maryland. Using a kerosene heater increases your chances of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning exponentially, and using candles for lighting your home could result in a fatal fire. Your life, and that of your family and pets, is precious — don’t wait until you have an emergency to look for help.

There’s no shame in asking for help when you’ve hit a bump in the road. Job loss, foreclosure, health issues that resulted in astronomical medical bills, unexpected expenses — these things can happen to anyone. It’s better to get the help you need now, before winter comes and your home is unsafe.

Lastly, if you have neighbors who are elderly, particularly if they’re low-income, please check on them from time to time, and make sure they’re safe.

Great News!

We’re embarking on a huge fundraising push for HPW and the work we do here, and starting now — every donation you give will be matched by a foundation grant, up to $30,000.  One of the critical items on any organization’s fundraising list is grassroots support.  Residents and businesses — the economic challenges Baltimore faces, and has faced for the past two decades — those affect you, no matter which neighborhood you live or work!

Six years ago we started a conversation about vacant housing — one that has received national and international attention.  Now it’s time to make sure our city and state officials close the door to bad development and negligent property owners, and open the doors for people who want to make our city a better place to live, work, and play.  Your tax-deductible contribution is the only way we’re able to continue this work. For six years we’ve been (literally) in the city’s neighborhoods, and fighting hard for better transparency in government, better use of our tax dollars, and a better city overall.  With your help, we’ll be able to see a safer, stronger, city — especially with this matching grant!

Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution today!

Thank You!

Many, many thanks to everyone who came to Friday night’s fundraiser — it was so wonderful to meet many of you and talk about what we’re doing now, and what we hope to accomplish in the future! Most of the art pieces sold, so a special thank you to all of the artists who donated their work (and their time).  One of the pieces that did not sell — an amazing sculpture by Paula Ibey, will be offered through a special online auction soon!

Also, a big thank you to Zella’s and Blacksauce Kitchen for their food and beverage donations.  If you’ve never had pizza from Zella’s go ASAP.  You’ll soon see why they’re always voted “Best Pizza”, and Blacksauce’s cider-braised chicken with biscuits…to die for. It’s so nice to find companies that are supportive of our work — much appreciated!

If you did not attend, and would like to make a tax-deductible contribution towards our work, please go here.

One thing happened that was a bit…odd.  A landlord/property owner showed up and made a bit of a fuss — it appeared he was slightly inebriated before walking in the door.  He proceeded to give me quite the dressing down about the number of citations he’s received from the city about the construction debris at one of his properties.  Apparently he doesn’t think he’s required to get a Dumpster or Dumpster permit, and according to him, property owners like him are the only reason why Baltimore is showing any signs of improvement. Unfortunately, he began to taunt and threaten another guest and had to be removed.

But I would like to thank that guy for crashing the party — because every time one of these folks opens their mouth about why they don’t have to follow the law, and it’s everyone’s fault but theirs, and why they’re right and everyone else is wrong — it only clarifies how much work their is left to do, and how wonderful it would be if people like him would take their business elsewhere.  For every lawbreaking property owner who thinks he’s above the law that we can get rid of, it opens the door for someone who does want to follow the rules and create decent housing for those who want to live in our city.

Just remember, folks — public policy created the window for opportunists like this guy and others, public policy allows them to proliferate, and public policy can and should put a stop to them.  We can do this!

Early Voting Begins Today!

Remember — voting is one of the easiest and best ways to make sure your voice is heard when it comes to the issues you care about.  There are no perfect candidates — nobody is going to fix everything immediately, but this is an opportunity to make sure you have a choice in who represents you!

In Baltimore City, you can vote at the following locations:

  • Public Safety Training Facility
    (Old Pimlico Middle School)
    3500 W. Northern Parkway
    Baltimore, MD 21215
  • St. Brigids Parish Center
    900 S. East Avenue
    Baltimore, MD 21224
  • Maritime Industries Academy School #431
    Rear Entrance
    5001 Sinclair Lane
    Baltimore, MD 21206
  • League for People with Disabilities
    1111 East Coldspring Lane
    Baltimore, MD 21239
  • Edmondson Westside Sr. High School #400
    501 Athol Avenue
    Baltimore, MD 21229
  • University of Maryland Baltimore
    621 W. Lombard Street, 2nd Floor
    Baltimore, MD 21201
    FREE PARKING Pratt Street Garage only. Enter at 646 W. Pratt Street.

For other locations across Maryland, or for directions/more information on early voting, go here.  If you can’t take advantage of the early voting, you can still vote on election day, November the 4th.  To find your November polling place, go here.

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.