By Adria Crutchfield, BRHP Executive Director and Tisha Guthrie, Bolton House Residents Association and Baltimore City Affordable Housing Trust Fund Commissioner

As the weather turns cold in the final days of Mayor Jack Young’s tenure, he faces a critical opportunity to do something permanent for persons experiencing homelessness. 

You have to have been living under a rock the last 10 months to not know that a home – a roof over one’s head – is critical health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is crucial and irreplaceable protection from the virus.    

Therefore, you would think that every local elected leader would be trying to create more housing to ensure that each of their residents had this kind of protection.

Not so with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. 

In the waning days of his term, Mayor Young was presented with three opportunities to protect the lives of Baltimore City residents facing homelessness.  The first was an emergency response, the second was preventative, and the third is a permanent solution to homelessness. 

One would think he would jump on all three.  Not so.  Mayor Young has agreed to the first two, but is inexplicably resistant to the third.

Mayor Young should think again.

The emergency response – demanded by advocacy coalition Housing Our Neighbors – was to extend hotel space for people experiencing homelessness.  This was after the City had suggested  it would return the hundreds of seniors and other high-risk persons experiencing homelessness to large congregate shelters during December.  The suggestion was indisputably bad policy.  Large congregate shelters are the perfect breeding ground for the virus, which was why the City initially moved  people into hotels last spring.  We are grateful Mayor reversed course and has agreed to extend the hotel stays.

The preventative response focused on the impending eviction crisis.  The more evictions, the higher number of persons facing homelessness in the City.  So, the City Council passed legislation ensuring that any low-income tenant in the City would have a lawyer.  Again, we are grateful Mayor Young signed this important legislation making Baltimore City the 7th jurisdiction in the country to ensure a right to counsel in eviction cases.

But what Mayor Young has missed is the permanent solution.  Luckily, the City Council didn’t.  Last month, the Council unanimously passed Council Bill 20-0592, to create a locally-funded housing voucher program to create more of that critical life-saving affordable housing for City residents.  The Mayor should have rushed to sign the bill.  Instead, he has been silent.  Why?

Does the City lack the funding for a local voucher program?  No.  The money for the voucher program will come from the voter-approved and already-funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Is a local voucher program a best-practice?  Absolutely.  Indeed, the federal government has recommended that local communities create local voucher programs of the type the City Council passed here.

Have other local jurisdictions created local voucher programs?  Yes, hundreds of them.  The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in 2014 that 313 state and local jurisdictions had created local housing voucher programs. Baltimore City would be far from alone.

Are there other programs and organizations willing to help the City launch this effort?  Yes.  The Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, a nationally recognized leader and operator of a regional voucher program, has already offered to serve as a resource to the City for this new program, among others.

So, if the City has the money, the program is a best-practice, hundreds of other jurisdictions do it and there are local partners to help, why would Mayor Young refuse to sign the bill? 

Maybe his refusal is rooted in spite?  Perhaps he is getting bad advice?  In truth, we do not know the reason, but it cannot be a good one. 

The Mayor has all the power to take a major step to reduce homelessness – and protect even more lives of City residents.  He must take it.

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