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  August 2, 2017

Backroom Deal Shutters Baltimore Daycare Center Serving Public Housing Residents

Residents voice concerns after a critical facility serving low-income parents is forced out of a city-owned building on short notice
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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. As the push for gentrification in Baltimore continues, some say the tactics deployed by City Hall have gone too far.

ANNIE CHAMBERS: I think it's a push to gentrify Baltimore City period to get poor and working people out of Baltimore City.

TAYA GRAHAM: Sometimes an image can explain an idea in a way that words cannot. The word is gentrification. But the image of a moving van collecting the belongings of the Pleasant View Learning Center in East Baltimore is a far more potent symbol of what it means. That's because the facility that cares for the children of low-income residents in nearby public housing is being shut down, leaving dozens of families without affordable daycare.

SHANIKA BENNET: What are we supposed to do now. We can't find affordable daycare for our children to go to while we at work and not only affordable, but safe. You know, you feel like the staff cares about your children, that they love your children.

TAYA GRAHAM: Earlier this month, the city told the owners to vacate the building with little notice, all due to a back-room deal with a powerful charity that sits just a few yards away.

GRANVILLE TEMPLETON: They found out that Living Classrooms did have a $1 a year lease for the building that my client was paying thousands and thousands of dollars in rent for.

STEPHEN JANIS: Does that seem fair to you?

GRANVILLE TEMPLETON: It's not fair at all.

TAYA GRAHAM: Without public scrutiny, the Housing Department gave preliminary approval for a $1 a year lease to the politically connected, non-profit called Living Classrooms, who will take over the building. They plan to open a Head Start program, a change that will be little help for the families Pleasant View currently serves.

TIANGAY WAINES: I think it's just unfortunate that it's predominantly African-American families, because the other daycares that aren't are pretty much a lot more expensive. So it is going to affect predominantly African-American parents that go there.

TAYA GRAHAM: Antagonizing the community is who sits on the board of the charity which received the lease, City Council President Jack Young and Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank. Last year, Baltimore awarded Plank a $600 million tax break to build Port Covington, a mini city on the water, an interconnected entity that raises questions for residents who suspect the deal is not above board.

GRANVILLE TEMPLETON: We asked Housing, "Can we purchase it?" And they turned their back on us pretty much and said, "No, it's already ... the deal's already been done." We understand if the deal was done correctly, which we don't know at this point. I don't know if it was done with a handshake and a wink or if they went through the right processes, and that's what's coming out now with this investigation.

TAYA GRAHAM: Particularly because the city's next big push to gentrify could be this swath of East Baltimore. Suspicions confirmed by the deal to force out Pleasant View.

ANNIE CHAMBERS: They attack where they're surrounded by public housing. Surrounded by public housing. So, yes, it's a push to gentrify Baltimore City and push us out.

TAYA GRAHAM: Which is why residents say they will fight back against the deal. To close it, a small skirmish in a longer battle to save a place and a voice for the people who have lived here all along.

ANNIE CHAMBERS: But we have to fight back. I'm asking, you know, people, we have to come out and fight back.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis, reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.



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