Mayor Brandon Scott’s action last year to take 2,900 homeowners with outstanding property tax balances out of the tax sale lien certificate auction was life-changing for Baltimore families. We personally called our affected clients, and we heard crying expressions of relief upon learning of the reprieve the mayor granted them. They committed to using that reprieve to find ways to pay off their tax debts.
Most homeowners want to pay their property taxes, but some need additional time and assistance to do so. Fortunately, several new programs were rolled out in 2022 that can get homeowners back on track, but housing advocates also need time to conduct outreach and help homeowners access assistance programs.
We at the Tax Sale Work Group — housing and legal aid advocates who work in Baltimore to help property owners navigate the property tax sale process — urge Mayor Scott to remove homeowner properties once again from the tax sale auction. This year’s tax sale list comprises more than 5,500 homeowners, a number significantly higher than in recent years. We know from experience that most of these homeowners are Black and brown seniors who reside in some of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Currently, an unprecedented number of assistance programs are available to help preserve homeownership. But challenges have arisen with completing the applications and obtaining the assistance. Applications are cumbersome and take weeks or months to get approved. Federal and state officials have put millions of dollars into direct assistance and staffing with the goal of keeping homeowners in their homes. Pulling homeowners’ properties from the tax sale auction is crucial for these programs to work as intended.
Fiscally, taking this action makes sense: Tax sales generate an annual revenue stream of approximately $5 million from owner-occupied units but cost the city approximately $40 million annually to provide direct and indirect services (boarding, greening, fire and police response) to the more than 7,000 vacant properties with vacant building notices. Tax sales can drive homes into vacancy. Enabling homeowners more time to access COVID19 hardship programs -- such as the Homeowners Assistance Fund, which will pay up to $20,000 toward delinquent property taxes, water bills, and other homeownership-related expenses -- will result in millions in payments to the city.
The mayor’s action last year, and his effort to prioritize tax sale legislation in the Maryland General Assembly’s current session, demonstrate the extent to which he understands and will work toward resolving the tax sale issue, which hurts communities in ways ranging from racial inequality to neighborhood blight.
Allison Harris is director of the Home Preservation Project at the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.
Maryland HBCU campuses among those urgently needing modernization
While the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities are renowned for historic buildings and grounds, many administrations face what can be a daunting task: improving and modernizing facilities that were built more than a century ago to ensure they are ready for the next generation and beyond.
Several HBCUs are now taking steps to modernize. HBCUs such as Morgan State University and Howard University, for example, are investing in their campuses and “set[ting] deliberate goal[s] of improving campus-wide infrastructure to support operational excellence and increase overall institutional capacity,” as stated by Morgan State University President David Wilson.
These HBCUs should be recognized for the transformation of their campuses. In January, Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, announced federal support of nearly $17.5 million for construction of a new science and technology center. For quite a few years now, Bowie State University has been committed to utilizing renewable energy as a form of reducing its carbon footprint. The campus generates 15% to 20% of energy needs via solar. Recognizing the wins is helpful in addressing the opportunities for other HBCUs.
In May 2021, legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to expand support for modernization at HBCUs and institutions that have historically served Latino and Native communities. But no legislation of its kind has been approved.
According to the United Negro College Fund, “90% of HBCUs need repairs to their buildings, laboratories, dormitories and research facilities.”
In 2021, a report by the Center for Racial Equity in Education found that “funding for deferred maintenance or renovation and repairs on existing facilities, some of which qualify as historic landmarks, is not sufficient for providing the quality of experience students and faculty at HBCUs deserve.”
We owe it to future generations to provide an environment conducive to learning on a clean, comfortable and connected campus, supported by opportunities to thrive in a setting that is on par with universities throughout the nation.
We know that there is no one-size-fits-all method for campus modernization. We also know that just one university with administration and students facing these obstacles is too many, especially when there are options available. Please take the time to educate yourself about legislative efforts to support HBCU campus modernization and recognize the opportunities ahead of us when we all work together toward a common goal.
Paul Clary is co-founder of MD Energy Advisors, where he is responsible for business development.
Archdiocese sex abuse investigation merits praise for AG office, Frosh
The investigation into the allegations of hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse over decades in Baltimore by clergy and others within the Baltimore Archdiocese was an incredible undertaking by the Office of the Attorney General. That office does not have a large criminal investigation division, and yet, the work was comprehensive and the report skillfully written.
The office is to be commended for that work, and credit should be given where it is due. The investigation was initiated, performed and completed under the direction of former Attorney General Brian Frosh, who was in office until January of this year.
We have Mr. Frosh and his staff to thank for this critical information.
Kathleen Morse, Baltimore