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by Ian Round9:16 amNov 16, 20200

On tonight’s Council agenda: renter’s right to a lawyer, new homelessness office

With two meetings to go before the term ends, members rush to pass legislation, including an advisory panel to curb threatening language and gestures in public places

Time is running out for the City Council to pass ordinances before its 72nd term ends and all in-progress legislation fails.

With only two meetings to go – tonight and December 7 – there isn’t enough time for new bills to make it through the legislative process, but many are still approaching the finish line.

A bill sponsored by Council President and Mayor-Elect Brandon Scott to guarantee legal representation to renters facing eviction, faces its second reading tonight. Scott is seeking to suspend a rule and advance it to third and final reading.

UPDATE: The Council passed each of the bills in this article. The Office to End Homelessness was approved with minor amendments recommended by the Law Department. BUT because the Council does not have enough time to override a veto by Mayor Young, some of the measures may have to be introduced again next term.

That bill follows a study showing the difference pro bono legal support can make for renters, who often face lawyered-up landlords.

The study, funded by the Abell Foundation, found that legal representation has a dramatic effect on keeping people out of homelessness or disruptive displacement.

The city could save more than $35 million in back-end costs, such as healthcare and homeless services, with an investment of less than $6 million every year, the study found.

Despite the research, the outgoing Young administration appears less than enthusiastic about the legislation, questioning its cost and the Council’s authority.

The Finance Department flatly opposes it, despite acknowledging the city would likely save money.

The Department of Housing and Community Development proposes a work group to study the issue, and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City recommends a pilot program. The Law Department wants amendments to adjust some “procedural requirements.”

Given these objections, the bill is likely to face a veto from outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Office to End Homelessness

Scott’s bill is not the only one related to homelessness on tonight’s agenda.

A bill sponsored by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, replacing the Office of Homeless Services with an Office to End Homelessness, faces its second and third readings.

In addition to creating a new agency no longer under the mayor’s office, Dorsey’s bill would expand affordable housing and vouchers.

The Young administration raised issues about the measure in committee.

The Law Department also withheld approval initially, citing “vague and subjective” language. City lawyers also questioned the Council’s authority to appropriate the money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, noting the few avenues the Council has to direct spending.

The Finance Department also expressed concerns. “The city is facing major fiscal concerns and cannot at this time support the implementation of a new program with general fund dollars without pulling resources from other services,” Budget Director Robert Cenname wrote.

The Office of Homeless Services, run as part of Tisha Edward’s Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, took no official position. Identifying a few concerns, it recommended that all current employees be transferred to the new office.

Street Harassment Panel

Also up for final passage tonight is the establishment of a 19-member Street Harassment Advisory Committee.

The panel’s purpose is to thwart “disrespectful, offensive or threatening statements, gestures or other conduct” in public places “based on an individual’s actual or perceived race, color, religious beliefs, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or housing status.”

The bill was introduced by Councilwoman Shannon Sneed and has six other sponsors.

A handful of resolutions are also on tonight’s agenda. One of them, sponsored by Scott, declares this Friday the “2020 Transgender Day of Remembrance” and another expresses the Council’s “unequivocal support for Baltimore’s bid to a World Cup Host City in 2026.”

Tonight’s meeting can be viewed at 5 p.m. on CharmTV.

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