Mayors use budgets the way chefs use menus — to tell us what they’re serving but not always what we need or want. The Baltimore Police Department budget for fiscal 2024 was nearly $600 million, more than the spending for the city’s health, housing, community development and recreation and parks services and the Enoch Pratt Free Library combined. Yet, as evictions return to pre-pandemic levels, Mayor Brandon Scott has not spoken publicly about millions of dollars promised for rental assistance, which would prevent nearly 1,000 families from facing homelessness.
Last month, the Board of Estimates approved $9 million in emergency spending. One-third of this was for the Police Department and included money for new uniforms and repairs to a gun range. When citizens ask for affordable and available water services or eviction prevention funds, the city throws up roadblocks, while the path is most often cleared for police funding requests.
The benefits of government-allocated rental assistance are many and clear. The immediate effects of reducing evictions and homelessness are obvious, but the most poignant impact of making housing affordable for those who would otherwise face eviction is on the health of individuals. Housing instability is associated with respiratory problems, hypertension, depression and mental distress. Effects on children are particularly grievous when it comes to physical development and behavioral problems.
Emergency rental assistance helps provide children and adults the opportunity to live with dignity. Such assistance also results in cost savings. Physical and mental health problems directly and indirectly take a toll on public services and the local economy. Investment in rental assistance unburdens hospitals, schools and policing, while giving more people access to stable employment.
Mayor Brandon Scott promised additional funding for eviction prevention during this year’s budget negotiations. Three months later, we still don’t have an answer from the mayor about when these funds will be transferred into the city’s eviction prevention program. In Baltimore, police need only ask and they receive funding. Scott must act with the same urgency for working families trying to avoid eviction.
Eric Lewitus, Baltimore
Ralikh Hayes, Baltimore
Eric Lewitus is a member of Jews United for Justice and Ralikh Hayes is the deputy director of Organizing Black.