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Politicsby Fern Shen4:44 pmNov 8, 20170

Pugh pressed to keep her campaign promises on affordable housing

The money is there, the Housing Roundtable says, proposing a $40 million investment. “All it takes is shifting priorities”

Above: United Workers canvasser Terrel Askew was among 100 people who called on Mayor Pugh to create more affordable housing. (Fern Shen)

Heads bobbed in assent, as Vernadine Kimball spoke from experience about what it’s like to be homeless in Baltimore.

Canvassing this summer for the 20/20 Campaign, a grassroots effort calling on the city to float $40 million in bonds to create affordable housing and deconstruct vacant rowhouses, Temple heard so many accounts like hers, she said.

There was the woman with Stage IV cancer who camped out on a line at 11 a.m. to guarantee herself a bed when the shelter doors opened at 6 p.m.

“Another young lady said, ‘Oh no, I’m not homeless. I’m just a woman without a home,’” Kimball recalled. “Those stories moved me.”

But will they move Mayor Catherine Pugh?

That was the point of a news conference held today at City Hall by Temple and other members of the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, who said the mayor is not keeping her promises to support the campaign.

“A promise doesn’t mean much if you don’t stand with us and put it in the budget,” said Terrel Askew, a United Workers canvasser who, like Kimball, has experienced homelessness.

Showing support for more funding for affordable housing, women raise the 20/20 agenda high. (Fern Shen)

Showing their support for more funding for affordable housing, women raise the 20/20 agenda high. (Fern Shen)

Councilman Zeke Cohen, who joined the event, said that housing insecurity contributes to Baltimore’s crime problems by destabilizing children’s home lives.

“If we are going to get serious about public safety, if we’re going to get serious about educating our kids,” he said. “Then we have to get serious about stable, affordable, safe housing in Baltimore.”

“The city is looking down the barrel of a housing affordability crisis,” said Cohen. Also lending their support were Council members Shannon Sneed and Bill Henry.

After the speakers finished their remarks, about 100 participants streamed into the office of deputy finance director Steve Kraus to deliver a petition with 20,000 names calling for the 20/20 plan to be funded.

Budget Director Won’t Meet

Pointing to the abundance of vacant housing at the same time an estimated 3,000 people are without shelter, the Roundtable has been calling on the city to support its comprehensive proposal in the 2019 budget.

Their “20/20” agenda includes a call for $20 million for affordable housing and $20 million more to deconstruct unsalvagable vacant housing in order to create jobs and sustain neighborhood development.

Pugh said she would support 20/20 during her 2016 campaign for mayor, according to Greg Sawtell, lead organizer for United Workers, which helped bring together 25 groups to form the Roundtable.

As mayor last May, Pugh said she supported the 20/20 agenda at a public rally. “Regardless of what your status is, everybody deserves a place to live. . . The vision for 20/20 is one that I support,” Pugh proclaimed.

Since then, however, Pugh’s  budget director, Andrew Kleine, has refused to meet with the Roundtable to discuss putting the request in the budget.

Meanwhile, Pugh has left advocates wondering about her specific agenda related to homelessness.

After delaying a report and a promised plan on homelessness, she declared last month that building permanent housing is extremely costly and that solutions must come from the private sector.

During today’s event, Pugh was at a competing press conference with officials at Pompeian, Inc. “celebrating,” according to her press office, the fact that the East Baltimore company has become the fastest-growing olive oil brand sold by Walmart.

UPDATE: Pugh said she shares “the vision” of the 20/20 Plan.

Rash Field vs Affordable Housing

In addition to funding their proposal, group members said, Pugh should explain her plans to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund approved by the voters last November to ensure there is more housing for low-income residents.

“What happened to the Trust Fund?” Sawtell asked. “That was a mandate from citizens, from voters.”

Homeless camp alongside Route 40, near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (Fern Shen)

Homeless camp alongside Route 40, near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., earlier this year. (Fern Shen)

Housing Roundtable policy committee chair Matt Hill said that city officials cry poverty, but could find resources for affordable housing if they shifted priorities.

“Projects like Rash Field, with $1 million allocated now and plans to put another $4 million in the future,” said Hill, an attorney at the Public Justice Center. “It’s a perfectly lovely field, lovely volleyball courts, but when you look at my clients who are living in lead-infested homes in-between two vacants – where are the city’s priorities?”

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