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The Covid-19 Pandemic

by Fair Development Roundtable, United Workers, Housing Our Neighbors & South Baltimore Community Land Trust4:10 pmMar 22, 20200

Mr. Mayor: Do more now to help vulnerable Baltimore residents during this COVID-19 crisis

AN OPEN LETTER calls on Jack Young and other leaders to provide emergency housing and food protection for those who are poor, homeless and struggling [OP-ED]

Above: On Bath Street, women wait for transport to a shelter. Advocates say Baltimore must do more to help the most vulnerable since the new coronavirus has threatened their health and left many jobless. (2016 photo, Fern Shen)

Dear Mayor Jack Young, Council President Brandon Scott, and City Council members:

We, the undersigned, request that the Mayor, City Council, and Board of Estimates take the following actions to meet the emergency housing and food needs of our most vulnerable residents during this time of national and state emergency:

Rapidly rehouse our vulnerable neighbors who frequent emergency shelters and homeless encampments in hotel rooms, permanent housing, and permanent supportive housing for those who choose;

Commit city resources to eviction prevention, including emergency rental assistance and energy/utility assistance;

Explore implementing full and immediate rent and mortgage forgiveness for all residents for six months or until adequate and permanent assistance provisions are in place and readily accessible; and

Supplement and expand emergency feeding programs for City residents for six months or until adequate and permanent assistance provisions are in place and readily accessible.

• OPEN LETTER LINK

House Homeless at Hilton?

People experiencing homelessness are often in close proximity to other people in shelters and encampments, have less access to resources to maintain good hygiene, and have a higher rate of chronic illness that puts them at heightened risk of contracting, spreading, and having more severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Our neighbors experiencing homelessness must have the same opportunities as others to limit their exposure and maintain stringent hygiene practices, both for the well-being of every member of our community and to prevent the spread of a much greater public health crisis.

Most shelters are crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation. High-touch surfaces also are prominent. After exposure, symptoms of the virus can take anywhere from two to 14 days to become apparent.

Our neighbors experiencing homelessness must have the same opportunities as others to limit their exposure and maintain stringent hygiene practices.

Hotel rooms, however, are going empty and workers are losing wages. As the city owns the Hilton Hotel, this accommodation may be less costly than most. Permanent rental options can be secured with city funds as well.

As you know, Baltimore City Code, Art. 1, Sec. 39-1 et. seq. requires existing and proposed city actions to meet equity tests relative to race, gender, sexual orientation and income.

The City’s latest point-in-time count report showed that 70% of those in emergency shelter are Black or African-American, and 3% of Hispanic/Latinx. If Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native and multiple race individuals are added, 77% of those sheltered in the City are racial minorities. Seventy-two percent of those counted were men.

All are destitute.

Prevent Evictions

Preventing evictions that will likely result in homelessness should also be a major priority for the City in this emergency.

While evictions and foreclosures are postponed at the moment, we anticipate an onslaught of eviction and foreclosure actions as soon as the Court of Appeals lifts the postponement.

Approximately 52% of Baltimore’s households are renters. And 53% of city renters (58,716) pay more than one-third of their income in housing, which is considered unaffordable.

Attorney Karen Wabeke of the Homeless Persons Representation project comforts Donna after helping her move her belongings out of the roadway. (Fern Shen)

Attorney Karen Wabeke of the Homeless Persons Representation project comforts Donna, one of several people displaced from an encampment cleared during the Pugh Administration. (2018 photo, Fern Shen)

Low-income homeowners, like renters, are in a similar affordability crunch. About 40% of city homeowners pay more than one-third of their income in housing. These households are already on the edge of foreclosure and subsequent eviction, and many will be pushed over the edge by this pandemic.

Increasing shelter occupation for families, children and vulnerable adults that will result from evictions will only exacerbate this public health crisis.

Considering the statistics above, a failure to act is placing a greater burden on the African American and minority communities of this City to face this pandemic, and actually placing them in harm’s way. It is common knowledge that Black mothers are most likely to be evicted, even compared to whites in the same socio-economic status.

A failure to prepare now to provide extensive eviction prevention assistance is a race equity issue.

Rent  Forgiveness, Food Aid

Another source of immediate relief for renters and homeowners could be mandated rent and mortgage forgiveness in which the landlord or bank foregoes rent or mortgage payments for a specified period of time.

Other jurisdictions are exploring this option to provide immediate relief to working class families, and Baltimore should do so as well.

Finally, feeding programs already designated may run short of staff and supplies.

We implore you to use funds to keep the programs open, with expansion to geographic areas most isolated (i.e. South Baltimore, Westport, Cherry Hill, Mt. Winans, Lakeland, Curtis Bay, Brooklyn).

Monday morning at a Greenmount Avenue carryout. (Fern Shen)

Monday morning at a Greenmount Avenue carryout. (2019 photo, Fern Shen)

A Rainy Day? This is it!

The City should use its Budget Stabilization Fund (“Rainy Day Fund”), roughly $90 million, and other available resources (including short-term borrowing) to meet many of these urgent needs.

We understand the Rainy Day Fund is designed to stabilize a budget that has been impacted by a shortfall in revenues and/or an unanticipated and uncorrectable emergency expense.

These are emergency expenses that will save lives and contribute to the overall economic recovery of the city – including the city’s revenue – and are warranted by this emergency.

Respectfully Submitted,

United Workers, the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, Housing Our Neighbors and the Fair Development Roundtable, whose members include, among others, Health Care for the Homeless and Housing Our Neighbors and the Public Justice Center.

_____________________

As of today (3/22/20) 594 people have signed the letter, according to United Workers’ Greg Sawtell. Among the signatories are four members of the Baltimore City Council: John Bullock, Mary Pat Clarke, Ryan Dorsey and Ed Reisinger.

The letter was sent on Friday (3/20/20) to:

Dana P. Moore, Acting City Solicitor, dana.moore@baltimorecity.gov

Matthew Garbark, Acting Director, Dept. of Public Works, Matthew.Garbark@baltimorecity.gov

Joan Pratt, Baltimore City Comptroller, Joan.Pratt@baltimorecity.gov

Jerrianne Anthony, Dir. of Mayor’s Off. of Homeless Servs., jerrianne.anthony@baltimorecity.gov

Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Health Dept. Commissioner, bchd2@baltimorecity.gov

Michael Braverman, Commissioner, Dept. of Hous. and Comm. Dev., Michael.Braverman@baltimorecity.gov

The Hon. Barbara Waxman, Admin. Judge, Dist. Ct. of Md. for Balt. City, Barbara.Waxman@marylandcourts.gov

Sheriff John Anderson, John.Anderson@baltimorecity.gov

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