This week, City Council President Nick Mosby—who is fundraising to defend himself in a federal investigation—unveiled a dollar houses program that aims to revitalize the city and bridge its massive racial wealth gap. Critics warn it would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and real estate developers. Others noted that many aspects of the program are duplicative of policies already in place.
The proposal to sell city-owned vacant homes for a dollar is intended to incentivize home ownership, targeting formerly redlined neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore and offering up to $10,000 towards their purchase and up to $25,000 for repairs. Mosby is calling on Mayor Brandon Scott to use a third of the $641 million Baltimore has received in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the plan.
For Marc Rollins, a Baltimore-based real estate investor who has handled vacant properties for the last three years, Mosby’s numbers just don’t add up.
“$25,000, depending on what property you buy, is not enough. Most of these houses need new floors, you probably still have lead paint,” Rollins told Battleground Baltimore. “You have to rip out the entire house and put it back together. The total project can cost at least $60,000-100,000.”
So far it’s unclear under the proposed dollar homes legislation how low-income families, many of whom have no credit history or bad credit through no fault of their own, would come up with the additional necessary capital to complete renovations.
For the proposal, Mosby is invoking “Committee of the Whole” to bypass individual committees and chair hearings of the bill directly. Baltimore City historian Matthew Crenson said invoking the Committee of the Whole “is a way to get around the committee process and questions that could expose critical weak points in this proposal.”
And there are many weak points. The council president’s office has yet to release a list of “economic policy advisers, affordable housing experts, and community builders” that were consulted on the project. Battleground Baltimore reached out to many of the city’s high-profile housing advocates and none were contacted by Mosby’s office.
A source in city government who wished to remain anonymous told Battleground Baltimore some of the many problems with Mosby’s program.
“The Council’s proposed home repair program is completely duplicative of the program the City has operated for more than 20 years, and would codify weaker standards into law,” they said. “The City currently prioritizes people below 30% of AMI. This bill would apply to people below 60% of AMI. The Council bill limits support to $10,000 for an emergency. The current City program goes above and beyond that amount.”
Housing advocates have responded to the dollar homes proposal in a way that echoes their response to Mosby’s problematic push for what he called a “security deposit alternative,” the devil-in-the-details policy Mosby failed to pass through the council earlier this year. At the time, advocates called that policy “a scam.”
Housing Our Neighbors, a grassroots membership organization that fights for affordable housing and the rights of those facing housing precarity and eviction in Baltimore, put it more succinctly.
“Dollar houses take resources and time – things a lot of us just don’t have. This isn’t really about equity, it’s a PR move by @Nick_Mosby that will give grants to people who can flip a house while some of us are still in tents and shelters. But go on,” Housing Our Neighbors tweeted.
When asked for comment, Council President Mosby’s office did not provide Battleground Baltimore with one. Instead they pointed us to the past comments by Mosby’s office on local radio and Instagram Live, and provided a link to an FAQ about the program.
Why has Nick Mosby hijacked City Council’s IG?
Over the past four days, the Baltimore City Council’s official Instagram account @baltcouncil has posted nine times about the dollar houses program. In most of these posts, we see Council President Nick Mosby talking up the plan in professional-looking videos or posing with other council members in crisp, professional photos. There is of course, a hashtag, and there was even a teaser post which said, “City Council President @nick.mosby wants to bring back Baltimore’s dollar houses. Stay tuned for more today on this big announcement. #HouseBaltimore.”
This is a strange way to use an account that represents the council and not only the council president, but it is nothing new. Mosby has been using the City Council’s Instagram for promotion like this for more than a year. It’s something that Battleground Baltimore readers—and some city officials—have been calling to our attention for quite some time.
A scroll through the account regularly shows image after image of Mosby at an event (sometimes from multiple angles) or working hard at his laptop, and often quotes Mosby or features captions written in his voice. Mosby’s use of it is egregious enough that Battleground Baltimore decided to calculate how @baltcitycouncil is being utilized.
As of press time, the account had 695 posts in total. Of those 695 posts, 413 of them are devoted to delivering fairly neutral information: when a council meeting is happening, a celebration of a holiday, and so on. Battleground Baltimore was generous with its categorization. For example, a post simply explaining the dollar houses program was counted as informational, even though the council Instagram does not afford similar explainers to many other bills not supported by Mosby.
So 59% of the Instagram account’s posts are, ostensibly, informational.
Of the 695 posts, 247 of them prominently feature Mosby, either in photos, quotations from Mosby, with audio promoting his podcast, and more. That means nearly 35% of @baltcitycouncil posts are about Mosby, or prominently feature him.
To compare, 62 posts feature Mayor Brandon Scott (9% of total posts), 18 posts feature Councilperson Robert Stokes, and 9 posts feature Councilperson Sharon Middleton.
Removing the 413 posts Battleground Baltimore deemed “informational” leaves 282 posts. Of those 282 posts, 247 of them feature Mosby. That means that when the @baltcitycouncil Instagram is not providing basic information to citizens, it is focused on Mosby 88% of the time.
Oh yeah—and one more. There is a March 10 post featuring Mosby in front of an outer space background with twinkling animated stars that wishes the council president “Happy Birthday.” There are no other posts wishing any of the other council members a happy birthday.
Baltimore cops try to skip strip club bill
“Get out of my face. I will destroy all of you,” Baltimore Police Detective John Burns declared as some other cops tried to remove him from Chez Joey, a downtown Baltimore strip club that’s less than 500 feet from Baltimore Police Department headquarters.
Burns, a 27-year veteran of the department, was at Chez Joey with former Baltimore police officer Bryan Hake. They were confronted by state police officers who arrived when both Burns and Hake were accused of trying to leave without paying their tabs.
Their tabs added up to more than $1,000. It was a Sunday morning, around 12:30AM.
Hake claimed he had paid his tab. Burns refused to provide his identification to cops on the scene and, according to charging documents, tried to push his way through the officers and out of the club. That’s when he told the cops he would “destroy” all of them.
Burns, whose salary is around $95,000 a year (in 2020 he also made around $13,000 in overtime), was charged with theft and second-degree assault. He is currently suspended with pay.
Hake has not yet been charged. In February 2015, Hake—who has since retired from the police—was one of five officers involved in the arrest of a man named Trayvon Scott, who died in police custody. Scott was arrested and told officers that his handcuffs were too tight. He told the police he had asthma and requested water. His requests were denied, and Scott was taken to jail without being given aid. He died soon after.
In 2016, the city settled with the family of Scott for $100,000 dollars.
Black transgender youth protest Central Booking treatment
Last weekend, Free State Justice and Baltimore BLXCK organized the “Stop Killing Us” rally in front of City Hall protesting Central Booking’s conditions for transgender arrestees. Like most everything in our society, the myriad systemic problems that harm people, harm Black people more, and Black trans folks the most.
In October, 18-year-old Kazzy Davis complained about the conditions of Central Booking after she spent 40 days there on an assault charge. While there, Davis was placed with male-identifying arrestees and was mocked by guards when she received her hormone shots. The guards called her “sir.” Back in February, 43-year-old transgender woman Kim Wirtz died in a Central Booking cell. Wirtz had been placed in the men’s lock-up facility.
At the rally, Nicole Wells, who is a case director for Baltimore Safe Haven, a nonprofit that provides housing for transgender people, described her experiences in Central Booking, Washington Blade reported: “The staff misgendered me and placed me with the males. They did not put me in protective custody and I was assaulted by one of the inmates,” Wells said.
Baltimore Museum of Art workers want a ‘wall-to-wall’ union
The Real News Network’s Editor-in-Chief Maximilian Alvarez spoke to Baltimore Museum of Art curatorial research associate Laura Albans, and to Matt Papich, who works in the exhibitions design and installation department for the museum, about its unionization effort. It’s an in-depth and important conversation.
Article of the week: Ron Cassie’s ‘The Many Trials of Keith Davis Jr.’
Baltimore Magazine’s Ron Cassie is one of the city’s heroes of longform journalism, and in his latest piece he took on the complex—and outrageous—saga of Keith Davis Jr., a man shot by police, later charged with a murder, and tried four (and, soon, five) times for that same crime. Cassie moves through the story mixing vivid detail with a quiet frustration over the many problems in the case. The result is one of the most moving and, importantly, easy to follow pieces about a sorely underreported story.
Thread of the week: a preview of Black Collagists
BmoreArt’s Teri Henderson is the latest Baltimorean to release a book: Black Collagists, which compiles the work of Black collage artists and provides the historical context for Black collage, is out soon. This thread introduces you to the artists in the book.
Tweet of the week: @dereckapurnell calling Marilyn Mosby out
Credit to Derecka Purnell, author of the excellent Becoming Abolitionists (and a Baltimorean!) for tweeting this about Keith Davis Jr.: “Hi- this is @MarilynMosbyEsq’s fault. A so-called Black woman progressive prosecutor has charged this man so many times because she keeps losing. It’s as if he is being punished for surviving being shot by the Baltimore PD. If he’d died, maybe there would be protests and pressure.”