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.

Celebrating One Year!

It was one year ago today that I turned a project I was passionate about into an organization with fiscal sponsorship, and the ability to do more in-depth work towards making Baltimore a better, safe place for all residents, through better housing policy.

Many thanks to all of you who have supported our work, through your donations, your advice, and your suggestions.  Without you, our work would not be possible.  This year has definitely had some challenges, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun.  I look forward to continuing this work in the coming year and beyond!

SOWEBO Neighbors — Please Join Us June 12 and June 14!

SOWEBO Now!

Please come to this great two-day event where neighbors will have the opportunity to discuss and work on small projects that will have an impact on neighborhood issues. I will be leading the discussion and project for vacants.

Thursday we’ll be discussing what neighbors can do about nuisance vacants: how to verify ownership, how to be strategic in communications with the city about vacants, and where you can go for help.

Saturday we’ll embark on a data collection project where all of your data will be mapped — you’ll get hands-on experience, along with the fun of doing something with your neighbors to combat something that’s been plaguing our communities for far too long. After the two-day session, you will continue to receive technical support from me, and I’m sure the other project leaders will be available as well.

If housing isn’t your thing, there will be groups working on other projects! See below for more info:

The SOWEBO Now Project is a two part event designed to promote new collaborations, connect resources in Southwest Baltimore, and create small projects that can move forward in the next three months.

Part One | Learn/ Think | June 12 (6-9pm)
An evening event, where project leads will share information on current issues facing the neighborhood and form teams with others who want to take action.

Part Two | Make/Do | June 14 (11-5pm)
A focused Saturday of exactly that, making and doing! We are merging ideas from hackathons, creative blitzes and action labs to host a day of taking whatever first steps are needed to turn these projects and ideas into realities. Teams can build apps, websites, logos, stories, art, maps, action plans, or anything they can dream up to move SOWEBO forward

Organizers will be awarding small grants at the end of Make/Do to get projects off the ground.

We need your experience, ideas, and energy! The Southwest Partnership unites seven neighborhoods and has been working for a year on a master plan. This event will capitalize on the momentum these dynamic and engaged citizens to support small wins and spark action now.

Food will be provided at each event, and Saturday will be kid-friendly. The event is free, but you do need to sign up so we know how many people are coming.

 

 

MDE Issues Enforcement Actions Against 37 Baltimore City Property Owners for Lead Paint Violations

From the press release from the Maryland Department of the Environment:

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:

  • Eva E. Sherman Hejazi – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $16,000 for alleged violations.
  • Fausto Richard Pannoni and Gregory Andrew Pannoni – 3 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $44,000 for alleged violations.
  • Amadou Diallo – 6 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $33,000 for alleged violations.
  • HMJ 1411 Division, LLC – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $15,000 for alleged violations.
  • Edward Vaughn and Irene Vaughn – 4 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $27,500 for alleged violations.
  • Patterson Park I, LLC – 4 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $27,500 for alleged violations.
  • Hiram Holton – 2 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $44,000 for alleged violations.
  • Mary R. White – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $26,500 for alleged violations.
  • Charles David Duckett – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $27,500 for alleged violations.
  • Shokrollah Afah and Jakline Afrah – 4 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $16,500 for alleged violations.
  • Patterson Park IV, LLC – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $22,000 for alleged violations.
  • Richard Dunn – 9 affected properties – 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.
  • Ambrose A. Wright and Rossana M. Wright – 5 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $44,000 for alleged violations.
  • Leona Z. Martin and Carol Z. Swope – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $16,500 for alleged violations.
  • Daisy M. Wallace – 7 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $38,500 for alleged violations.
  • VG Property Management 108, LLC – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $16,500 for alleged violations.
  • Subhi Badra and Badra Properties, LLC – 26 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $50,000 for alleged violations.
  • Raydon Properties, LLC – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $30,000 for alleged violations.
  • Chetan Mehta, Charlulata Mehta and Kamla, LLC – 6 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking a combined $31,000 for alleged violations.
  • Kara Turner and Clinton Turner, Jr. – 3 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $12,500 for alleged violations.
  • Daniel Lopez, Jr., Trustee – (Baltimore City and County):  6 affected properties – Settlement Agreement and Consent Order to resolve alleged violations of Maryland’s lead law. The defendant agreed to a penalty of $6,000.
  • Jonas Eshelman and Steven Crouch – 64 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $50,000 for alleged violations.
  • CE Realty, LLC – 72 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $50,000 for alleged violations.
  • Fourtweleve, LLC – 6 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $12,000 for alleged violations.
  • Willco Management Holdings, LLC – 9 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $22,000 for alleged violations.
  • Allen L. Johnson, Jr. – 4 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $33,000 for alleged violations.
  • Sarah Jean Peck – 2 affected properties – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $15,000 for alleged violations.
  • Lida M. Anderson – 1 affected property – Administrative Complaint, Order and Penalty requiring compliance with Maryland’s lead law and seeking $22,000 for alleged violations.

You can read the full press release here, which includes enforcement actions in other jurisdictions.

Update on 447 N Lakewood Avenue

Interesting to note that shortly after the gas explosion that resulted in a building collapse, killing 8 year old Troy Douglas, the LLC owner sold the property to yet another LLC, for the grand sum of $100 (link opens a PDF).

The home is now owned by MBE Properties, LLC, 906 Louis Lane, Kingsville, MD 21087.  That address (a residence) is also home to three other businesses:  two LLCs and a corporation.  Hopefully these folks will be more responsible than the last owners.

 

City to Offer Tax Credit for Market-Rate Housing

I received this missive today from Thomas Stosur, Director of Baltimore City’s Department of Planning:

RE: CITY COUNCIL BILL #14-0359 / TAX CREDITS – CITYWIDE HIGH-PERFORMANCE MARKET-RATE RENTAL HOUSING

For the purpose of providing a Citywide property tax credit for certain newly constructed or converted high-performance market-rate rental housing projects; imposing certain limitations, conditions, and qualifications; providing for the administration of the credit; defining certain terms; setting a date for termination of the program; and generally relating to property tax credits. (Citywide)

The Department of Planning will present information and a recommendation on the above-mentioned matter for consideration by the Planning Commission at a meeting on May 1, 2014.

Because of your interest, you may wish to attend this Commission meeting which will begin at 2:00 p.m. at 417 East Fayette Street, 8th Floor.

Please note that the security procedures in the Benton Building require that you bring photo-identification with you.

If you require special accommodations to attend or participate in the Planning Commission hearing, please provide information about your requirements at least five business days in advance of this event. The building and hearing room are wheelchair accessible.

If you have any questions, please call Alexandra Hoffman of my staff at 410-396-8484 for further information.

Sincerely,

Thomas J. Stosur,
Director

I find it distressing that the City is willing and able to use our tax dollars to fund market-rate housing, especially in light of the fact that Maryland is now the 4th most expensive state for renters, as reported in 247/Wall Street. As detailed here, Baltimore is in dire need of middle-income housing — the median income in Baltimore City is far below that of the rest of the state, and a frightening number of people are spending well over the recommended 25-30% of their monthly net income on housing costs.  It is far less expensive (and therefore less of a burden on taxpayers) to prevent people from sliding into poverty and homelessness than it is to help them climb back up the mountain towards financial stability.

Tell your elected officials on the City Council, and tell Thomas Stosur, Director of Planning, that we need middle-income housing — and we need to encourage its development.  With 30,000+ vacant structures in Baltimore City, there’s no reason why middle-income working families should be struggling to keep a roof over their heads!

Legistar page for #14-0359

Tom Stosur
Planning Director
Baltimore City
Department of Planning
8th Floor
417 East Fayette Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Office: 410-396-4327
Email: Tom.Stosur@baltimorecity.gov

Find your City Council Representative here.

A Plan for Affordable Housing in Baltimore

We all know there’s a housing problem in Baltimore City — it’s becoming increasingly difficult for middle-income renters to find housing that’s both safe and affordable, and nobody should have to make that choice.  With a median income of only $40,0001, Baltimore is quickly losing a solid middle-class, and is becoming a city of rich and poor — not unlike many cities across the country.

What does make Baltimore unique, in some ways, is the surplus of housing stock we have, and not just in distressed neighborhoods.  Between vacants and foreclosure/walk-aways, we have a lot of empty homes in moderate- to lower-income neighborhoods that could be developed as moderate-income rentals, if there was a plan in place to do it.  I’ve written about it a few times, and have talked myself blue in the face about it — so why not start a larger conversation about the topic and get more feedback?

The Numbers

33.2% of Baltimore City residents earn between $25,000 and $60,000 annually, making Baltimore an increasingly unaffordable city, when residents need to rent a home or apartment. The median household income is approximately $40,000 , while the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Fair Market Rent” on a two-bedroom home is $12522 . Even for a couple with no children, or a single parent with one child – that rent falls outside the accepted 25% to 30% of net monthly income someone should pay each month for housing. Many rental properties in Baltimore are priced much higher, even in marginal neighborhoods with few amenities and higher-than-average crime rates.

This problem is not unique to Baltimore. After the collapse of the mortgage industry, many homeowners were forced to rent, as they lost their homes to foreclosure. As a result, rents climbed out of reach for many. Nationwide, approximately half of all rental households are spending more than 30% of their income on rent3 – a slippery slope for an already over-burdened middle class.

Let’s look at what two random Baltimore taxpayers bring home4:

  • “Joe ” makes around $43,000 a year. Twice a month he receives $1675 for a total monthly gross salary of $3350. Each month, Joe pays a total of $731.18 in state and federal income taxes, and FICA (Social Security and Medicare). This leaves Joe with a net monthly salary of $2619. Let’s assume for a moment that Joe has no 401K or insurance deductions. Joe can afford to pay no more than $873 a month in rent – far below the $1252 Fair Market Rent set by HUD for a two-bedroom, and also below the FMR of $1001 for a one bedroom. The most he would be able to afford is a fair-market rent efficiency at $847.
  • “Jenny” is a single mom with one child, and makes $39,242. Twice a month, Jenny receives a gross salary of $1435 for a total of $2870. She pays a combined monthly total of $864 in state and federal income taxes, and FICA. This leaves her with $2,006. The current FMR is far out of her reach for an efficiency, a one-bedroom, or a two-bedroom. Where is Jenny going to live for $669 a month? Currently, she’s risking her financial well-being by paying more than 30% of her income on housing — a situation that won’t last long, given the high cost of utilities and food.

The Problem

Many of our hardworking Baltimore residents are unable to meet their basic shelter needs without putting themselves at risk for financial ruin, as housing costs, particularly for renters, has increased exponentially since 2007. Not everyone can, or wants to, own a home – therefore, we need to meet the demand for reasonably-priced housing for our middle-income renters, at a price they can afford, while developing the stability and sustainability of our “Outer Harbor” neighborhoods.

While millions of tax dollars have been spent in the form of incentives for development in the Inner Harbor, downtown, and Harbor East, many of our neighborhoods have been left by the wayside, and have not received the attention or development dollars of some of our wealthier communities. As a result, these “on the cusp” areas have not developed to their full potential. In fact, some have started a decline with increased vacancy levels, as residents are pushed out by increasing rents, with no new tenants to take their place. This problem is affecting landlords, property owners, neighbors, and the city as a whole.

The Solution and the Logistics

The Outer Harbor Initiative, introduced in 2009 by Councilman William Cole, IV (District 11) would provide tax incentives and other development assistance to local companies interested in redeveloping homes in neighborhoods where the potential for sustainable revitalization is the greatest. Ideally, choosing neighborhoods that are adjacent to stable communities and working outward, would be the way to progress.

The advantages to the plan:

  1. Increasing the number of homes sold through the City’s “Vacants to Value” program
  2. Better vetting of development partners would mean better accountability and transparency for residents and government alike
  3. Retaining and attracting middle-income residents means an increased tax base
  4. Increased business revenue over the long term.

How the plan works, in a nutshell:

  1. For every million dollars spent in Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) in high-income communities, X-percent would have to be set aside for middle-income rental housing financing in an adjacent neighborhood.
  2. Vetted developers would purchase vacant homes in these neighborhoods, rehab them, and offer affordable rent for a period of X years (most I’ve spoken to agree that five years5 would be ideal) – at the end of the five years, the tenant has the option to either purchase the home, or pay market-rate rent. The TIF would supplement the difference between what the developer is charging for rent vs the market rate.

Obviously, some of the plan still needs to be fleshed out. Some questions for discussion and further review:

  1. Where would the TIF and other financing/money be held?
  2. Who would manage the plan and provide oversight?
  3. What would the vetting process for developers and tenants look like?

Notes and Sources:

  1. Source: BNIA Vital Signs 11: http://www.bniajfi.org/uploaded_files/VSChapters/Census%20Demographics.pdf
  2. Source: US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) FY2014 FMR Geography Summary for Baltimore city, Maryland
  3. Source: Bipartisan Policy Center, “The State of Housing in America”, February 25, 2014
  4. Names of taxpayers have been changed, taxpayers were chosen at random and revealed actual information on their paystubs. Income information is for illustrative purposes only.
  5. I initially picked five years, assuming that most people would know whether they’re going to be staying in a home (or a neighborhood) after living there for five years. Also, to give the person time to progress salary-wise, so at the end of the five years they would be able to afford to purchase the home or pay the market-rate rent, if they chose to stay. The lease would be a one-year lease, renewing at the affordable rate for a period of five years.