Saving Grace: Baltimore Church Gets Last Minute Reprieve From Unholy Water Bill

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Barnes Memorial’s congregation was prepared to lose their church over an unpaid water bill, but found salvation when a motion was approved to stay the eviction

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Story Transcript

DHARNA NOOR: Pastor Mark James leads the congregation at Barnes Memorial Church.

SHAUNDRA JONES: Because of this church, I survive.

DHARNA NOOR: The church was sold into tax sale over an unpaid water bill and a smaller fine from a faulty fire alarm. This morning, the congregation thought they’d be evicted. But instead they got word that a motion to stop the eviction was approved.

SHAUNDRA JONES: And I knew it was victory. I new it was victory. That’s all I expected of my God.

DHARNA NOOR: The pleadings, filed by Curtis Cooper and Nicholas McDaniels of the Maryland chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, argued that the LLC who bought the church at tax sale is not in good standing with the state of Maryland. For months, Pastor James has been fighting against the city’s tax sales over water bills.

MARK JAMES: I love this city, I brag about this city, but this city has let me down ethically.

DHARNA NOOR: Late last year Mayor Catherine Pugh issued a moratorium on tax sales over water bills, but just for homeowners with water-only liens.

MARK JAMES: Our mayor, I love her, but she, she needs to take a stand and realize that church and the faith-based community is the gel that holds people together in community.

DHARNA NOOR: This past legislative session, James championed a bill sponsored by delegate Mary Washington to remove water from tax sales completely. Instead, the state passed a watered down version of the bill.

MARY WASHINGTON: Churches like this are not covered under the moratorium that was passed by the Senate.

DHARNA NOOR: The fight to save the church and stop water bills from triggering tax sale isn’t over.

MARK JAMES: We are on our way to court soon, to win. To win, and to help others. We are hoping that we can experience victory as a precedent that opens the way, to open the way for redemption for a lot of other people who have been disadvantaged by these rogue tax sales.

MARY WASHINGTON: We get to keep fighting. Live to fight another day, that’s what, that’s what so much of the work we have to do in this city and in this country. It’s, it’s those small victories. But this one is definitely a large victory for them to keep their church home.

DHARNA NOOR: The congregation hopes the lein on their church will be voided.

MARK JAMES: And when we win, not only does our city win by an automatic upgrade in ethics to not let these things go on, OK, but everybody who’s been disenfranchised, who’s been disadvantaged, who’s been wrongfully evicted will have some repose and redress.

DHARNA NOOR: But for now the Barnes Memorial congregation are counting their blessings.

MARY WASHINGTON: It will be a warning to those who are blocking justice when it comes to unfair water bills, when it comes to the taking of poor people and working people’s lifelong investments, that we’re not going to stand for it anymore.

MARK JAMES: Just, you know, a happy day. It’s a happy day. I’m happy.

DHARNA NOOR: For the Real News, this is Dharna Noor.