Sean Yoes

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

Several months ago, Nneka Nnamdi set out on the vital mission to save “Big Momma’s House.”

I’m certain Nnamdi, the indefatigable founder of Fight Blight Bmore has no outsized affinity for the 2000 blockbuster comedy starring Martin Lawrence and Nia Long.

However, Nnamdi is fiercely focused on protecting what Big Momma’s house is: the prototypical, enduring Black American family home symbolic of our community’s foundation. And an elemental source of Black American wealth.

But, many such homes in the Black community were recently placed in imminent danger by the city’s looming annual tax lien certificate sale used to “collect delinquent real property taxes and other unpaid charges owed to the city,” according to the city government website.

However, after pervasive pressure by many advocates, Mayor Brandon Scott made the announcement this week that about 2,500 owner occupied homes on that list would be removed. Those homes would have been auctioned off May 17.

“Keeping to the promise I made during the State of the City Address, I have directed the City Administrator and Finance Director to remove new owner-occupied tax liens from the tax sale process,” Scott said via Twitter on May 3.

Perhaps the advocate fighting with the most ferocity to protect many of the homeowners, scheduled for what most likely would have been a catastrophe, was Nnamdi. Her organization Fight Blight Bmore worked with Parity Homes, The Robinson Group, Maryland the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and other entities, to form the SOS (Stop Oppressive Seizures) Fund.

“While a first step in responsiveness to the crisis, the Mayor’s plan for addressing the 2021 tax sale doesn’t fully meet the mark. The annual tax sale is a practice rooted in institutional racism that continues to destabilize homeownership in the city, displace people from their homes, create more vacancy and further strip Black Baltimoreans of their wealth,” SOS said in a statement after Scott’s announcement this week.

“Without more details on the long term plans to stop this predatory practice in its entirety, an assessment of the potential impact cannot be determined. The SOS Fund and other community partners stand by its determination that all owner-occupied homes (including those tangled titles) be removed from the tax sale, and we reassert creating a competent community-informed and advocate-led process for uprooting the inequities baked into the current tax collection system,” the group added.

“We encourage Mayor Scott to continue the process of eliminating these arcane practices that harm Black communities specifically and Baltimore City as a whole. Further, we encourage the creation of policies that will invigorate familial and community wealth generation and transfer in the Black Butterfly.”

Nnamdi, a native of Washington, D.C., resides in and her organization is headquartered in the once mighty Harlem Park community of West Baltimore, or perhaps more accurately described as Old West Baltimore. Nnamdi and others (the AFRO is in the process of relocating its headquarters in Upton, adjacent to Harlem Park) are determined to make Harlem Park mighty once again.

“I experience and witness the unsafe conditions (blight and demolitions) in Old West Baltimore. In researching these conditions it became apparent that the people experiencing blight and its impacts have the most effective, equitable and sustainable solutions, but not the platform to apply the solutions,” Nnamdi told the AFRO.  “And because it needs to be made clear the connection between economic violence by policy of the city, state and federal governments against Black people and communities, begets the interpersonal violence we see in community,” she added. “It’s not “what is wrong with us, it is what has and is happening to us” at the hands of policy makers, business lobbies, institutions, etc.”

Sean Yoes is the AFRO Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor