Maryland Communities United sets agenda for 2021

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Maryland Communities United hosted a Zoom call Jan. 21 to discuss victories, new fights and ongoing projects and struggles for Baltimoreans and Marylanders. (Image courtesy Maryland Communities United)

By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

As Joseph Robinette Biden entered the Oval Office for the first time as President of the United States, on Jan. 20, local Baltimore advocates and activists were laying out their agenda for the city, the surrounding communities and the state at large.

Maryland Communities United hosted a Zoom call Jan. 21 to discuss victories, new fights and ongoing projects and struggles for Baltimoreans and Marylanders.

One such victory was Bill 20-0625 that aims to guarantee right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. The bill will go into effect April 1, but lays out a four-year timeframe for full implementation. Eviction moratoriums continue for Maryland and Baltimore, but as the city’s economy continues to suffocate under COVID, and back rent continues to accumulate on landlord ledgers, Baltimore’s 300,000-plus renters face an ever-growing crisis should rent ever come due.

The bill also calls for an additional low-income renter to be added to Baltimore’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Commission.

Part of the guarantee to counsel comes from the requirement that Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development contract directly with nonprofits that provide legal services and lawyers to tenants facing eviction.

Communities United did not get everything they wanted in the bill and laid out their additional asks.

“We want to see an integrated approach that connects the eviction profession to people service providers and community service providers that let families stay in their homes” Jane Henderson, executive director, Maryland Communities United said, during the Zoom call. “We’ve spent a lot of research and a lot of cost analysis to look at this and the impact. And we know that tenants councils have better results and better outcomes for renters, not surprisingly.”

Looking forward to another crisis is Maryland and Baltimore’s budget shortfalls as tax revenue from Baltimore workers dry up. Workers are unable to work during the deadly pandemic, and vital infrastructure may be on the chopping block as a result.

Communities United and Maryland Fair Funding are pushing for the passage of SB 288/HB 215 in Maryland’s General Assembly.

The objective is to close Maryland’s carried interest “loophole.” The current funding model allows Maryland’s largest corporations to avoid tax at a time of increased revenue, profit and stimulus. Without funding, independent of source, Maryland cannot maintain school, transportation and healthcare funding, the coalition says.

Ongoing, immediate aid and outreach to Baltimore’s community continue through Communities United.

“We do this thing called ‘Coffee in the Courts,’” Tia Downer, a Sandtown-Winchester resident said. “We come out, we break bread, we give out snacks, we talk to community members, we have coffee and we have tea. But, we also talk about the issues we are working on, we talk about different things we have going on in the community, and how they can help themselves with the issues they are having within their community.”

Beyond biweekly talks every other Wednesday at McColloh Homes and every other Friday at Gilmor Homes, Downer is delivering produce boxes and protein boxes every Monday.

“If you want to come out one of those days, you’re more than welcome to come help, and if you want to grab some things that you need, you’re more than welcome to do that also,” Downer said.