Advocates fight security deposit bill

Housing advocates are calling on Mayor Brandon Scott to veto a bill passed by the City Council this week that they say will hurt renters. According to language in the Security Deposit Alternatives bill, Bill 21-0022, the legislation is “for the purpose of requiring certain lease provisions to create alternatives besides the traditional security deposit for residential leases.” The legislation requires that, in the event that a landlord assesses a security deposit more than 60% of monthly rent, the landlord must include in the lease an offer to purchase rental security deposit insurance or pay the deposit over a series of monthly installment payments.

All members of the council voted in favor of the bill, with the exception of Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey. Councilperson Kristerfer Burnett abstained from voting.

Cal Harris, Scott’s communication director, said that Scott will use the time allotted to him in the city charter—three city council meetings—to review the bill with his legislation team.

“Sad to say everyone on the City Council voted to allow predatory, fake insurance products in Baltimore rentals except for @Zeke_Cohen & @ElectRyanDorsey. Thank you both for standing with renters,” tweeted the group Bmore Renters United shortly after the bill was passed. Dorsey responded: “To be more precise, it wasn’t a vote to allow them. They are already allowed. It was a vote to promote their use, to promote exactly one venture capital firm that’s swooping in and co-opting the language of progressivism to weasel in and take advantage of vulnerable people.”

On Thursday, City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton shared an image on Twitter with the following words printed on it: “At its core, this bill is about choices and choices to manage your own finances mean freedom.”

However, some have questioned what those choices really are. “On the face of it, allowing alternatives to upfront security deposits should be a good thing. As many housing advocates know well, high upfront moving costs act as a barrier to securing affordable housing for low- and middle-income renters and can even keep people homeless,” writes Alex Williamson in an article first published in Shelterforce, an independent publication that focuses on community development and housing, and republished in Nonprofit Quarterly. Williamson notes that similar legislation has already been adopted in different parts of the United States.

Options like allowing the deposit to be paid in installments are often given, but one tends to be favored over others: insurance through a venture capital-backed startup called Rhino.

“Despite the name, most security deposit insurance does not provide renters with any protection from claims. On top of the nonrefundable fees, tenants using products like Rhino remain fully liable for any claims paid to their landlords. Also, these products are not governed by the same state laws that govern security deposits, leaving tenants with less recourse to dispute claims.”

The Baltimore Sun editorial board endorsed the bill, seemingly without giving much consideration at all to complaints like the ones covered in the Shelterforce piece. There are also a litany of Better Business Reviews that list complaints by people who felt they were taken advantage of by Rhino. 

Amazon donates what Bezos makes in four seconds to local community garden

Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, which recently was forced to admit its employees are, in fact, forced to pee in cups while its bosses accumulate unfathomable wealth, performed a good deed for the Duncan Street Miracle Garden in East Baltimore, the Baltimore Brew reported:

“Volunteers, concerned about Covid, were staying away, and [Lewis] Sharpe, the garden’s steward since 1988, had been slowed down by his own health problems.

It was clear he needed resources and help.

Yesterday he got both, as local officials from Amazon showed up with a $10,000 check and a group of volunteers.

“I appreciate all the people that have given me help to do this garden,” the 82-year-old said, addressing a ceremonial gathering of community members and city officials.”

While the donation earned praise, many online commentators were quick to point out that its timing coincides with the company’s public relations nightmare over its treatment of workers and tax avoidances. While the donation means a lot for the Duncan Street Miracle Garden, it’s a drop in the bucket for former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who made $10,000 every four seconds when his wealth was a paltry $137 billion in 2019. Since the pandemic, Amazon’s profits have skyrocketed, and Bezos’s wealth has swelled to $177 billion. Meanwhile, according to the National Labor Review Board, Amazon has fired multiple employees for organizing against unsafe working conditions.

Amazon has also been accused of intimidating mostly-Black workers at its Bessemer, Alabama, facility, who recently voted on whether to organize. Amazon was even forced to admit its workers are forced to pee in bottles and defecate in bags in order to keep up with the company’s unrealistic work demands during the pandemic, during which nearly 20,000 of its workers have contracted COVID-19. Employees in Baltimore-area facilities have told the Real News they, too, fear retaliation for speaking out over unsafe working conditions

Meanwhile, the company has exploited tax loopholes to pay little to no money in taxes on its billions in profit, while wiping out small businesses, including bookstores. If Democrats follow through on promises to force multinational corporations to pay taxes, perhaps community gardens would not need handouts just to survive. 

A Maryland Democrat actually called Larry Hogan out

Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd took Governor Larry Hogan to task this week, saying (as we have) that as COVID-19 continues to ravage the state and the country, it’s time to start shutting things down. 

“The state’s highest ranking elected official has unfortunately subjected people of color and people of all backgrounds in places like Prince George’s County and places like Baltimore City to claims of over entitlement,” Byrd said at a news conference held to mark the opening of a FEMA mass vaccination site.

“I want to let you know, Mr. Governor, very respectfully, that you have re-opened the state, in my mind, far too quickly. We could be looking at impending doom. We could be looking at a fourth wave. We could be looking at more people getting sick and more people dying.”

Byrd, of course, was correct. At the time of publication, Maryland’s hospitalizations, number of occupied ICU beds, and positivity rates are all up. Hogan has so far stepped up efforts to get more Marylanders vaccinated, as opposed to shutting things down to prevent people from spreading the virus.

When Hogan attempted to halt Bryd’s remarks, Byrd reminded Hogan that he was a visitor in Byrd’s city, to which the governor retorted, “you weren’t even invited.”

Classy.

ELSEWHERE

Students at Baltimore School for the Arts share stories of sexual harassment and assault, Baltimore Brew.

Chauvin defense witness faces lawsuit of his own over death of Black teenager in police custody, The Intercept.

Hogan Vetoes Juvenile Restoration Act, Prevailing Wage Measure, Maryland Matters.

One reason why The Real News Network calls Baltimore home is because we know that the struggles the people in this majority-minority city face (unequitable access to resources like education, clean air, and transportation, for example) are the struggles people face all over the globe. This is the latest installment of our weekly news roundup from the Baltimore trenches, which we hope will help keep our friends and neighbors abreast of what’s going on in our city, but also resonate with people united in the struggle everywhere.

Lisa Snowden-McCray

Former Managing Editor and Baltimore Editor

Lisa Snowden-McCray has been working in news for over 15 years. She specializes in reporting on race, policing, and Baltimore City. She is also the editor of Baltimore Beat, a nonprofit news outlet in Baltimore City.

 
@lisamccray

Jaisal Noor

Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.

 
jaisal@therealnews.com
 
@jaisalnoor