Community members from the Poe Homes in West Baltimore held a community meeting to push back against what they say is unfair policy
MEGAN SHERMAN, TRNN: [A small] community center on Baltimore’s West side seems like an unlikely place for grassroots pushback against generous tax breaks for developers to begin. But that was the general impression of the participants who gathered to discuss how to fight back against the $17.5 million subsidy to developers of University of Maryland’s biotech park. LEO W. BURROUGHS, JR.: But when it comes to protecting the interests of the elite and big business, they have their heads together, in our estimation. If it requires demonstrations or petitions, door to door [candidacy], online petitions, whatever it requires, we’ve got to mobilize a groundswell of community support [inaud.] under the efforts of [inaud.] to receive justice. SHERMAN: The group of West side residents say they want a place at the table when it comes time to decide what to do with the money the developers have promised to set aside for the community, a place that has not yet been offered by city leaders. LEADBETTER: They get the TIF, and the money is supposed to be going through the community, what they’re doing for the community, and they’re not doing anything. They’re lying about what they are doing for the communities, and they’re not doing anything. And we are tired of that. BURROUGHS: We think it’s flim-flam. They need to give them written assurances that jobs are going to be created, to ensure income equality. Namely, that the people who are earning minimum wage will get not just minimum wage but a living wage. SHERMAN: But it wasn’t just this specific tax break that was of concern for residents. Joshua Harris, who is running for mayor, says the city’s penchant for doling out tax breaks to out-of-town developers needs serious reform. He thinks tax subsidies compromise the future of fiscal health of this city, and aggravate poverty. JOSHUA HARRIS: This is an issue of economic justice, for all intents and purposes. And so we have to recognize that if we don’t make sure that we’re addressing substantively the issues of poverty that are just one block over from a major concentration of wealth, how that perpetuates a cycle that we see, and how that’s the actual system, that juxtaposition, that leads to the uprising and the things that we saw last April. When we surround people of poverty with great wealth, and they can’t touch it, and no one cares about them or is doing anything to invest in them. SHERMAN: TIFs, or Tax Increment Financing, allows developers to use future property taxes for construction costs. Harris says TIFs are costly tax breaks that the city can no longer afford. HARRIS: There’s constructive ways to build communities that use TIFs. Have they been used that way, to actually and positively impact the community in Baltimore City, no. There’s been a history of our elected leadership allowing TIFs to go through that only benefit major developers, who can in actuality afford to do the developments on their own, without the public dollars for the project. But it has been a way, a process for the wealthy to get even wealthier while the community suffers. SHERMAN: This is Megan Sherman, reporting with the Real News Network.
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