Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby’s $1 Homes program was voted down by council members last night, Thursday, Mar. 3.

The program would make vacants owned by the city available to longtime residents for just one dollar if they are able to repair and then live in the property themselves. Primary concerns about the bill were communicated to Battleground Baltimore back in November by City Hall sources; namely, that most Baltimoreans who could benefit from the program lack the funds to fully renovate homes and could end up owing money on a home they could not rehabilitate.

During last night’s hearing, Councilperson Odette Ramos stressed the need to ensure that “everyone who participates in this program isn’t going to be underwater.”

Grants to assist with repairs for those who want to enter the program only covered up to $25,000. It costs, by conservative estimates, $60,000-$100,000 to repair a vacant. Last night, an amendment to increase those repair grants to $50,000 was proposed and approved, but it did not help the bill itself pass.

“Everybody gets excited about the dollar … But the issue for vacant homes is, ‘Do you have the capital to rehab it?’”

Dr. Lawrence Brown, author of The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America

Equity scientist Dr. Lawrence Brown brought this issue up back in November: “For thousands of homes, you’d be talking about hundreds of millions to properly fund this to ensure that people had the capital,” Brown said. “Everybody gets excited about the dollar … But the issue for vacant homes is, ‘Do you have the capital to rehab it?’”

The council members who voted against the $1 Homes program last night were Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Mark Conway, Danielle McCray, Phylicia Porter, Odette Ramos, and James Torrence. 

The council members who voted for the $1 Homes program were Nick Mosby, John Bullock, Eric Costello, Antonio Glover, Sharon Green Middleton, Yitzy Schleifer, and Robert Stokes.

Councilperson Ryan Dorsey was absent, though it is likely he would have voted against it.

Back in December, a hearing about the bill was dominated by concerns about who in Baltimore would both need a home and have the capital to repair one.

“There is no measure that will ensure that houses made available for this program will be affordable,” Nneka Nnamdi of Fight Blight Bmore testified at the hearing. “The program doesn’t include the availability of low-cost or low-interest mortgages for program participants. And we can’t trust the banks to do that. Because, though the banks will protect their interests, they will not protect the interest of the people. The subprime lending crisis should have made that clear.”

For Nick Mosby, who has worked hard to establish a loyal group of council members to broadly back his policies (while hampering the efforts of some of the council’s generally productive progressives), the defeat displays his dwindling power. 

“[T]hough the banks will protect their interests, they will not protect the interest of the people. The subprime lending crisis should have made that clear.”

Nneka Nnamdi, Fight Blight Bmore

Mosby and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (his spouse) have also been under federal investigation. Last month, Marilyn Mosby was federally indicted (Nick Mosby has not been indicted). In recent weeks, Marilyn Mosby’s court filings have blamed Nick Mosby for the indictment and stated that she actually had plans to divorce him back in 2019. Last week, Baltimore Brew pointed out that the couple has an almost $1,000 water bill on their home that has not been paid. This week, after the story was published, that bill was paid

As Battleground Baltimore previously noted, Mosby has been aggressively campaigning for the $1 Homes program, even promoting it on the Baltimore City Council Instagram. Live streams exclusively praising the program were mischaracterized as “information sessions.” There have been, in total, eight hearings about $1 Homes since November.

The $1 Homes bill did not pass first reader, which means it remains in committee. Mosby could make an attempt to pass it again, but that seems unlikely. As WYPR’s Emily Sullivan explained, “The bill isn’t dead, technically: it’s in committee and Mosby can try again if he wants. But senior Scott staffers have been whipping progressives to strike it down.”

Sullivan’s analysis (read WYPR’s reporting here) of the inter-council politics at play is significant. Many of the council members to whom Mosby gave committee chair positions (ones previously held by progressives) voted in favor of the bill. 

Not long after the bill was announced back in November, Battleground Baltimore began hearing from many in City Hall who detailed their issues with the bill. “The original dollar homes program was most accessible to people who could get large loans from banks to rehab properties and primarily benefited white, wealthy developers,” a City Hall source told Battleground Baltimore. “This legislation duplicates existing city programs, in some cases with weaker equity standards, and includes provisions that are irrelevant to Baltimore City as a jurisdiction.”

This is the second housing policy defeat for Mosby. Last year, Mosby was criticized by housing advocates for pushing through another housing policy that they said promised things it could not deliver, enriching developers along the way: “rental security insurance.” 

Many of the council members to whom Mosby gave committee chair positions (ones previously held by progressives) voted in favor of the bill.

As Battleground Baltimore wrote last year, “the bill, presented as a way to help Baltimore City renters who cannot afford to pay a security deposit in full… codifies the option to purchase ‘rental security insurance’… a surety bond which can easily trap tenants in fees they can never escape.”

That bill was vetoed by Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott due to dogged scrutiny by housing activists, who declared the program “a scam.” Mosby dismissed the expansive grassroots group of tenants rights and housing justice activists opposing “rental security insurance” as some sort of cabal he referred to as the “vocal advocacy class.”

Last night, after Mosby’s $1 Homes failed to pass, police transparency Twitter account @ScanthePolice tweeted, “The Vocal Advocacy Class strikes again. But for real, thanks to everyone who identified and amplified problems with this bill. We look forward to seeing council members work with housing advocates towards sustainable housing policy that doesn’t sell out city residents to banks.”

Brandon Soderberg

Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.