Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kunze

By Dharna Noor

On Monday, a bill which would allocate $21 million to the police department to cover overtime costs (Council Bill 18-0265) moved forward in City Council.  The $21 million will come from “excess” revenues from the city’s transfer and recordation tax. Last week, the proposal was approved by the Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Pugh.

At the council meeting, Anthony Williams of the community group Housing Our Neighbors stood up in protest.

“We have been working on the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for over three years now,” he shouted. “Instead of investing in the human right to housing, the city is diverting excess revenue towards an institution proven to be racist and corrupt: the BPD.”

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund was approved by voters in 2016. This April, Councilman John Bullock introduced the Fund the Trust Act, which would increase the city’s transfer and recordation tax on the sale of non-owner occupied properties by 1%. The bill would generate approximately $20 million each year for the trust. Activists say they are still waiting for a hearing on Bullock’s bill.

“Ironically, the $21 million “excess” generated by the Transfer and Recordation Tax is nearly identical to the amount residents are calling for in the recently introduced Fund the Trust Act,” said Housing Our Neighbors in a press release.

Activists are concerned that unlike the Housing Trust Fund, more funding to the police department could do more harm than good. “Of all of the institutions you could fund, this is an institution that is being caught in corruption, being caught in corruption specifically for overtime abuse,” said Rachel Kutler, an organizer with Housing Our Neighbors. The Baltimore Police Department’s overtime is currently being audited as part of its federal consent decree. And last week, the first two of eight officers were sentenced to a combined 43 years in federal prison for their roles in the Gun Trace Task Force. The officers robbed drug dealers, sold narcotics, and committed overtime fraud with impunity for years.

Last May, Mayor Pugh spoke in favor of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at a rally at Baltimore’s War Memorial Building.

“We are committed to your vision. We are committed to providing housing for the people in our city. We are committed to getting people up off of our streets and creating housing for them. And we’re committed to making our public housing what it should be for every citizen who ends up in public housing and requires that to be their home,” she said.

Williams, who himself has been homeless, says he understands this need firsthand.

“It’s an uphill fight for us, but if we don’t speak up, who else will?” he said.

Outside city hall after the hearing, activists say that some councilmembers were supportive: Councilmember John Bullock shook their hands as Councilmember Brandon Scott looked on and nodded.

When the Real News Network asked Councilmember Ed Reisinger about Williams’ disruption, he smiled.

“Can I give you one word?” he said. “One word: democracy.”

Council Bill 18-0265 is set to go to a hearing in the Budget and Appropriations committee.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kunze

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.