Baltimore City Council session on Dollar House revival project turns into heated verbal fight between public and members – Baltimore Sun
Debate over a proposal to revive Baltimore’s Dollar House program erupted into a verbal melee among Baltimore City Council members and the public as people flooded City Hall on Tuesday, filling council chambers and banging at the door of Mayor Brandon Scott’s office.
Just before the council meeting, Council Chairman Nick Mosby, the author of the legislation, held a joint press conference in an adjacent room at City Hall with Bruce Marks, CEO of housing organization Neighborhood Support Corporation of America. Marks’ group organized the supporters present.
Marks and Mosby led a group of supporters that initially numbered around 75 but grew to several hundred in council chambers, where city council members were expected to discuss the Dollar House proposal. Marks was also invited to speak to Council as an expert on the matter, Mosby said, although he condemned the group’s knocking on the mayor’s door.
At one point during the two-hour meeting, Marks led the chants of the bill’s supporters into a standing-room Council chamber as Mosby watched unresponsively. Marks decried Scott as the “opposition” standing in the way of the bill, saying it was “bought and paid for” by the real estate industry. The remark caused an outcry from several city council members, who verbally argued with Marks. Mosby had to pound a hammer repeatedly to quell the unrest.
“I want to make sure there’s no riot outside,” Marks suggested. “I want to make sure people make their voices heard.”
Council members Danielle McCray and Ryan Dorsey came out of the rooms amid shouts.
The busy public display came during the council’s first in-person meeting on the Dollar House Revival Project, a legislative package introduced by Mosby in November. The bills call for the return of the Dollar House program, which gave city-owned homes in the 1970s for $1 in exchange for owners who renovated and lived in them.
Unlike the original Dollar House program, Mosby’s plan calls for targeting longtime residents who rent rather than own. The plan also targets homes in underserved areas of the city left behind by the racist mortgage policies of the past.
The Dollar House bill is being considered alongside two other housing proposals championed by Mosby that would provide home repair grants of up to $50,000 and offer assistance to seniors who have defaulted on their reverse mortgages. Buyers who invest in a home through the Dollar House program could take advantage of home repair grants to make improvements to their home.
Council members and city housing officials have raised concerns about the program’s eligibility requirements, which they say are unnecessarily complicated and the possibility of homeowners ending up underwater from when they renovate their house.
The city’s original Dollar House program offered low-interest financing for the full cost of renovations. Buyers under Mosby’s program would be limited to grants and money obtained from private lenders.
After more than half a dozen hearings on the legislative package, the council hit a stalemate in its first attempt to vote on the legislation at a March 3 meeting. Members were tied 7-7 with an absent member, failing to move the bill forward and stalling it in committee.
No votes were called on the bill on Tuesday, and Mosby said he did not know when a vote would be taken. Asked if he had the votes to pass the legislative package, Mosby said he didn’t know, but noted he was only one vote short last time around.
Councilman Zeke Cohen, who voted against the measure at the March hearing, said he had no conversations with his colleagues that indicated they had changed their minds on the proposal.
If approved by City Council, Dollar House’s legislative package would require Scott’s approval to become law. James Bentley, Scott’s spokesman, described the proposal Tuesday night as “a pie in the sky.”
Scott has allocated 0 million to the US federal bailout to address housing issues, Bentley noted.
“Frankly, the chairman’s legislation does not align with the mayor’s vision of meaningful policy and programs designed to help or even come close to our communities,” he said. “This legislation seems more harmful than helpful.”
The breakdown of the potential expenditure of the legislative package has not been calculated, but it is likely to be significant. Housing officials estimated the subsidies offered by the legislative package would cost $13.8 million a year while $25,000 was the cap. An amendment approved in March increased the grant portion of the program to $50,000.
Even if approved, the city council does not have the authority to fund the program. Mosby offered to use $200 million of the city’s $641 million from the U.S. bailout to establish the program. Scott controls these funds and has less than $200 million to allocate.
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Standing alongside Marks at the pre-meeting press conference, Mosby said the legislation, which he called unconventional, will prioritize city residents in a way they have not. never been before.
“If it’s not the moment, when is it?” asked Mosby.
Marks said after the meeting that he had volunteered to attend Tuesday’s session. Marks said he had been working with Mosby on the bill for a year. During the meeting, however, Mosby said the group was not affiliated with Legislation.
“Politicians don’t like to be called out,” Marks said. “They don’t like to be called for what it is. ‘Cause when you look at it, how can anyone be against it? Unless there are other interests [at play].”
Mosby said after the meeting that he didn’t know in advance that Marks and his supporters would try to approach the mayor or knock on his office door.
“This is unacceptable behavior in this room or at City Hall,” he said. “None of this is productive.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Lilly Price contributed to this article.