Sen. Catherine Pugh
As the light continues to shine on Baltimore it is an opportunity for us to show the world how we transform broken down neighbors and the lives of many of the individuals living in them. There is no getting around the number of boarded up houses that still exist in our city and cities like Baltimore around the nation and the injustices through mass incarceration that has helped to create criminal records for so many young men in our communities.
Baltimore has several colleges and institutions of higher living that graduate thousands of students each year. We have not addressed how we keep some of those graduates in Baltimore. Visualize if you will that we ask all of our Baltimore area Colleges and Universities to identify; and I’ll choose an arbitrary number (200) students who are expected to graduate that are interested in living in Baltimore.
Working in collaboration with our business community both profit and non-profits we secure for those graduates employment in our city and surrounding jurisdictions. Here is where the pendulum swings in the direction of increasing our population and reducing the number of boarded up houses in our city. With our colleges and universities we create these neighborhoods, can you imagine the Morgan-Johns Hopkins- Loyola Community, the Coppin-University of Maryland Community, the Maryland Institute College or Art-University of Baltimore community in these areas where we have block after block of boarded up houses. The city working through the eminent domain process would give to those graduates a boarded up house for $1 and require them to pay around $2,000 year to the city which provide the taxes to the city and puts those properties back on the tax rolls. The agreement with these new home owners is the city will not assess their properties for ten years while they renovate those homes and live in them. The city would get the banks and perhaps this is where the city, state and federal government and some public private partnerships come together to provide low interest loans and grants to help them renovate those properties. Tax Breaks and Tax Incentive Financing that we give to the development of downtowns can be activated for these new communities. Some of this we already do.
Not only are we reducing the boarded up homes in our city faster we are building wealth through home ownership for those graduates who take advantage of this opportunity. I started my first business with the equity I had built up in my home.
One Step Further
This effort could yield up to 1500-3,000 houses a year that would require renovating. This week Governor Hogan will sign a bill I wrote asking the state to create a demonstration project for those exiting our penal institutions to create their own businesses. I wrote this bill based on an experience I had campaigning. I stopped by a business and asked a gentleman if I could put a sign up on his business. The gentleman asked me if I remembered him and I replied no. He said you were my graduation speaker. I’m looking at the man trying to figure out was that in high school or college, he said…”You were my graduation speaker in prison….I never forgot what you said,”…and he repeated to me what I did say. “Congratulations guys, this is a big day for you having earned your GED…but let me say to you…You have a hard road ahead of you…but let me suggest if you have skills and the capacity to operate a business start one…and give good customer service, because what people care about is the quality of your service not your background. “ He went on to say…”that was me five years ago…this is my business…and when you finish go across town and put your sign on my other business.” The gentleman operates an automobile repair shop. He also pointed out to me that the people he was training were also ex-offender.
This step forward with our graduating students will create thousands of homes a year to be renovated. It gives Baltimore another opportunity to create jobs and business opportunities for so many in our city that have been caught up in the criminal just system. We could create training programs that can lead to real jobs and business opportunities in construction, plumbing, remodeling, landscaping, renovation and demolition for many individuals in this community that have the capacity to do this work.
In communities like Sandtown-Winchester we need side-by-side and exspungement center, GED program, Jobs Training and Business Creation Center and perhaps a manufacturing plant so that we show a real commitment to turning that community around. We have to remember that there are other families living in Sandtown-Winchester who are not all poor, but have brought homes, and have lived there for decades only to watch the lack of investment tare their neighborhoods apart.
We have to come to the realization that minimum wage jobs are not sufficient for some people with families to take care of them. That’s why we have to recommit ourselves to new ways and innovative ideas that can lead to the transformation of broken neighborhoods and broken people.
Finally as we move in this direction there has to be conversations and action on how we do drug treatment in these neighborhoods that don’t lead to the closing or mass exit of businesses as we have seen in Charles Village that is now inundated with drug treatment facilities. It is not that Baltimore doesn’t need drug treatment but it does need to create facilities away from communities in communal holistic environments that takes them away from the behavior that led them to the condition that they find themselves in today. In those settings we can provide drug treatment, job training and skills that can lead them to more productive lives. Ask yourself one question…If you were a drug dealer where would you set-up shop…and Baltimore like so many cities make it more difficult to get off of drugs when the drug dealer stands across the street or near the facility selling drugs and keeping folks in this condition.
The new normal for Baltimore and Communities like Baltimore will take resources, new thinking, new ideas and a commitment to transform neighborhoods and the lives of people who not only need help but want it.