When the Baltimore region’s air quality worsened due to wildfire smoke from other parts of the hemisphere, city leaders told us to stay indoors, keep our windows closed and crank up the air conditioning to stay cool. But I still had to keep my windows open.
I had to make this terrible decision because what’s inside the vent is probably even worse for my health. I’ve raised health and safety concerns about the apartment that have been ignored by management. Meanwhile, the City Council passed and Mayor Brandon Scott approved a budget that cut funding for housing code enforcement, despite loud public outcry by organizations including Baltimore Renters United to fund programs for more healthy and stable housing. Why call this budget process participatory when our advocacy is ignored?
In my apartment, if I turn on the heat or AC for even a little bit, I have to dust my apartment because of how dirty the vent is. My cabinets are covered in black residue that gets on my dishes. I hope for mild winters and summers, and I wear a mask in my own apartment to protect my lungs.
For three years, I’ve had these health and safety issues. I’ve gone to management several times about the issue. They tried to address the problems once with repairs, but when those problems continued, my calls and visits to the management office went unanswered. Management figures they can shortchange us because we’re in subsidized housing. What I need is a clean environment. Everyone has a right to safe, sanitary and stable housing, but I’m treated as less than human because I’m not paying full price out of pocket.
My love for this city runs deep. But the system that prioritizes profit over people is tearing our city apart. This system lines the pockets of the wealthy and supports the false narrative that the poor don’t count, that Black lives don’t matter, that we can’t make the change we desperately need. It’s the same system that tells us our communities will always be ridden with rats and drugs and crime, and the same system that tells people who want to stand up that if they do, they either won’t get listened to or the little they have will get taken away.
That’s why, alongside Baltimore Renters United, I went to the City Council’s Taxpayers’ Night, joining fellow impacted tenants and activists, housing experts and others to participate in what was promised to be a democratic process. I hoped my voice would be heard.
Instead, the process was chaotic and did not respect feedback from the public. Following the agency budget hearings, City Council President Nick Mosby and Eric Costello, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, gave the general public no information or notice about timelines, votes or processes. The City Council amended the budget on June 14, disregarding items people poured out their hearts to demand during Taxpayers’ Night.
One small victory: The budget allocates some funds for lawyers and outreach workers for people facing eviction, funds that will help tenants like me find an attorney to hold their landlords accountable for unsafe conditions, such as the polluted air in my unit.
But the finalized budget is not what the people sought. Despite the dozens of people who testified on behalf of Baltimore Renters United for robust funding for rental assistance and housing inspectors, the City Council did not commit any new funds toward rental assistance and instead cut funding for housing code enforcement. The eviction rate in Baltimore City is rapidly increasing and surpassing pre-COVID numbers, yet, the city’s emergency rental assistance funds to prevent evictions have practically run out. Advocates were told that the mayor committed privately during the budget process to allocate an additional $3 million for rental assistance. This could help more than 950 families, yet, the mayor has not yet made good on this promise.
Mayor Brandon Scott campaigned on making the budget process just and participatory. Instead, the public’s demands lifted up at Taxpayers’ Night were disregarded. If he wants to follow through on his promises, he must publicly commit to transferring $3 million toward rental assistance. He must listen to voices like mine and join us in the fight to keep people safely housed in our city and create a budget process that is truly participatory.
Sheila McMoore is a member of Communities United.