BALTIMORE, MD — The 2015 Baltimore uprising after Freddie Gray’s death on Baltimore’s West Side got people talking about Baltimore’s poor. Under the banner of “Fair Development,” a number of groups canvassed poor communities and talked to residents across the city. Finding a desperate need for housing, they called for the creation of a Housing Trust Fund. It would safely remove unlivable vacancies and create livable, affordable housing and neighborhood green spaces. It would employ residents of poor communities in the process.
Organizations of the homeless and in low-income communities, community land trusts, and housing advocates got enough signatures to put a Housing Trust Fund on the 2016 ballot. It got 83% of the vote! But the mayor refused to fund it. So supporters gathered enough signatures to put funding the Trust on the November 2018 ballot.
That got local politicians’ attention. In August, the Mayor committed $20 million in funding over several years. Real estate investors argue that the market, not people, needs to be the priority. Careful use of the Housing Trust Fund can bring some improvement to the community. The poor know they have to be organized to get their voice heard. Here are some voices from a rally at the September 27th City Council hearing:
“We’re doing this to let the poor people know they have a right to fair housing, educating poor people to stand up together to have a strong voice.” – Ernest “Bear” Lindsey
“I think of the hurricane: that’s a catastrophic condition. Well, getting evicted and homelessness is a catastrophe, too. People should be housed until they get permanent housing.“ – Touchstone Wilkinson
“So many people are homeless or on the verge. I don’t think Baltimore is going to survive much longer. Baltimore is losing people because they don’t have jobs or homes. People don’t come to the city because even if they did find a job, they wouldn’t be able to afford a home.” — Debra Young
“The thing about the Housing Task Force is that people need to be able to come home to their own place, to turn the key to their own door, not having to be told what time to get up, what time to eat. I know about this because I have experienced it.” — Sidney Bond
“We have this opportunity because people on the ground fought for it. This fight is just beginning. We started two years ago from nothing and now we have a commitment of $20 million. But we all know the history of Baltimore: these things fail if we don’t hold our city and ourselves accountable. There are threats from the big developers who’ve been fighting us for years, who want to keep the status quo. These are the challenges we face.” — Destiny Watford
“We are inviting people into a space where what they say will be taken seriously. It was the door knocking in neighborhoods where people feel forgotten and used, people who don’t have time to come to meetings. For a long time I felt things like this were not possible. I was a skeptic. I had to see it done. A lot of people sacrificed their time for this. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s not just about wins in the win column. This is about changing things in the long run.” — Terrel Askew