Tracy McDonald’s 13-year-old son starts eighth grade this week. The thrill of a new school year has been tempered by the frightening reality that mother and son could face homelessness soon.

McDonald, 13 years sober, lives in an East Baltimore rowhouse and gets her rent paid for by a Baltimore City-based nonprofit. The organization, Dayspring Programs, Inc., provides housing support and social services to city residents and families recovering from substance abuse. McDonald has been receiving services from Dayspring since 2011 and credits it with keeping herself and her son, Zion, safely housed.

But McDonald learned earlier this summer that Dayspring, which contracts with city government to pay rent for dozens of program participants, went months without paying the bills. Now her landlord, Skyline Properties Management, is planning to evict McDonald in the hopes of cutting its losses.

“I agree that it’s owed, but I don’t owe,” McDonald said last week. “I can’t stop crying. I’ve lost 11 pounds in a month — stressing.”

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It’s not clear why Dayspring, which has existed since 1997, missed so many payment deadlines. The nonprofit receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that is supposed to flow from city government into their accounts and then to landlords and utility providers.

Representatives from the organization, including its executive director, did not respond to requests for comment from The Baltimore Banner until after this story published. They did not answer questions, but said in a lengthy, unsigned statement that they had not received any payment from the city from at least April until Aug. 25.

“Dayspring is a small nonprofit and is unable to front hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of this HUD/MOHS program,” the statement said. It faulted staffing problems in the homeless services office for some of the delays, and said while there have been problems with late payments in the past, this year has been particularly difficult.

According to a Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office evictions list obtained by The Banner, four other Dayspring program participants who are housed in Skyline Properties units have evictions scheduled for this week.

All five tenants have more than four judgements for missed rent payments entered against them in the last year — which, per city law, gives the landlord the authority to evict them even if they are able to clear the debt before the scheduled eviction date.

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This isn’t the first instance of city tenants in housing programs — many of them medically fragile, unable to work or living with disabilities — standing on the brink of eviction due to breakdowns outside of their control. More than two dozen city tenants who rely on nonprofit agencies to pay their rents have faced homelessness within the last 18 months as a result of city contractors’ failures to pay rent. Some of the organizations have blamed city officials for failing to pay them on time due to administrative backlogs and staffing shortfalls.

Problems with the city paying its partner organizations have been well documented, with one 2022 report by the Abell Foundation finding that one of 115 housing grants reviewed were approved before work was scheduled to begin. Typically, small organizations dipped into their own coffers, the report found, and the problems have led to “fewer and more strained partnerships” with the city overall.

But not every failure-to-pay rent case can be blamed solely on city government.

More than 20 tenants who received housing subsidies and social services from AIDS Interfaith Residential Services, another city contractor that provided services in both the city and Baltimore County, faced eviction last year when their rents stopped being paid. Complaints about the nonprofit began piling up in early 2022, and the head of the nonprofit has not explained where funds meant for rent and utility payments have gone.

HUD’s Office of Inspector General received a referral about the nonprofit last year, and city and county officials terminated their contracts with it. The nonprofit supported about 800 people throughout the region, and HUD has since taken over the decrepit federally-subsidized multifamily units owned by AIDS Interfaith Residential Services’ subsidiaries, according to tenants there.

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Initially, in interviews with The Banner, AIDS Interfaith Residential Services President and CEO Anthony Butler blamed his problems on city government’s failures to pay him on time. But he could not explain other problems he had with managing the nonprofit, including defaulting on a nearly $1 million loan from the Harbor Bank of Maryland or his failures to deliver in the Baltimore County contracts. He has not responded to multiple requests for subsequent comment.

When problems with AIDS Interfaith Residential Services became public, Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services director Irene Agustin said the agency would closely monitor its nonprofit partners to avoid future crises. Spokeswoman Kyana Underwood said in an email that the team will “prioritize finding solutions to keep the clients stably housed” and continue to monitor Dayspring. Underwood said the city agency has conducted monitoring of Dayspring, once in 2022 and once in 2023.

In a statement, Baltimore Renters United — a coalition that advocates for housing justice — called the situation “a combination of incompetence” from Dayspring and the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services.

The group received calls from frantic tenants earlier this month, the statement said. Tenants who contacted Dayspring about the missed payments said they received instructions to show up in court and wait for the payments to arrive. After a while, Dayspring stopped responding to their calls and emails.

“Dayspring completely failed to support these tenants or advocate on their behalf, instead leaving them to navigate eviction court unsupported and allowing them to end up in a situation where eviction is almost guaranteed,” according to the statement. “Both Dayspring and MOHS’ operations must be investigated, and they must immediately remedy the situation and find these families stable housing before they are put out in the street.”

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Ann King, office administrator at Skyline Properties Management, said Dayspring on Monday produced payment covering rent from April through July — but still not August. The company will cancel this week’s evictions but will proceed with evicting the five tenants at a later date, King said.

King said the tenants, who are supposed to receive case management and other social services including group therapy from Dayspring, have been without such help for at least a few years and may be related to staff turnover within the organization. Skyline and the tenants have had difficulty communicating with Dayspring since at least 2021, King said, and the payment problems went from bad to worse starting in 2022.

“As a landlord, it doesn’t matter how big or small you are; you can’t not get paid and pay your bills,” King said. “Our hands are tied. If we had $5 million in the bank, it would be different.”

The problems, King said, remind her of the situation with AIDS Interfaith Residential Services. Skyline once housed five tenants for that nonprofit, she said, before they were all transferred to new housing providers. Skyline is still owed thousands of dollars from that nonprofit’s missed payments, she said.

King said she worries about Skyline’s tenants, many of whom have children. “If anything, these are women who were becoming stable and are getting knocked down,” she said. “This is risking their housing, and their sobriety, and their livelihood, their life, their children, their freedom. They could relapse and get arrested or die.”

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Carolyn Johnson, managing attorney at the Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc. — which is representing McDonald — said she believes Dayspring began missing rent payments as long ago as September 2022. She said it’s possible additional Dayspring program participants are in the eviction pipeline but haven’t been summoned to court yet.

Evictions also carry with them permanent harm, Johnson added, and can taint tenants’ records for years to come, making it difficult for them to find future housing or employment opportunities.

Dayspring, Johnson said, blamed its problems on city government delays.

“They [Dayspring] are obligated to pay the rent on time regardless of the funding source, or delays, or what have you,” Johnson said. “They should have a system in place to meet their obligations.”

She also faulted the city’s homeless services agency for failing to catch potential problems with the nonprofit until evictions were already underway. “If they were monitoring sufficiently, they would’ve known about these problems long ago,” she said. She added that no one from city government showed up in rent court to help defend the tenants.

Meanwhile, Kimberly Brown, another Dayspring program participant who lives a short walk away from McDonald, said she has nowhere else to turn if the eviction goes through. Brown, who uses a tracheostomy tube, communicated with a reporter using a whiteboard. She said she needs to live close to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she will begin undergoing radiation treatments next month.

“Need to know what is going on with Dayspring. I thought I was a client,” she said.

She said she understands Skyline’s eagerness to get paid but has no other housing lined up for her and her 15-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.

“How do they think these kids will act if they are thrown out on the street?” added Kimberly Brown’s mother, Sandra Jones, who said she doesn’t have space to take in her daughter or granddaughter in her Glen Burnie home. “They left these women out to dry.”

hallie.miller@thebaltimorebanner.com