Community members and advocacy groups packed the Board of Estimates Room in City Hall on Wednesday night. For the second-year, Taxpayers Night was held in a hybrid format, with attendees also participating online.
It was the first of two chances for residents to be vocal about Mayor Brandon Scott’s $4.4 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2024.
Housing stability dominated the night with Baltimore Renters United showing up with big demands. They want the city to budget to include $25 million for emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions.
“If you’ve been in eviction court in the past two weeks, out of the 50 people that can fit in the courtroom, 30 of them are black women,” said Heather Johnson, a Baltimore resident. “Most of whom have their children with them.”
Congress released federal emergency rental funds during the earlier part of the pandemic but those funds have almost run dry, leaving cities and states to come up with the money. Mayor Scott did announce an additional $5 million in emergency rental assistance last week during his State of the City address.
In addition to emergency rental assistance, housing activists want the city to support renters in eviction court.
They want $1.6 million to implement the city’s new ‘right to counsel law’ that connects tenants in eviction court with a lawyer.
“I tried to represent myself at a trial,” said Antoine Hudnell, of Allendale, who said he recently went through eviction court himself. “But I didn’t feel like I was being listened to. Or that I had a chance to tell my side of the story.”
The current budget proposal contains less than half a million for ‘right to counsel.’ Activists specifically want that funding to go towards community-based organizations that provide legal assistance.