EVENT PHOTOS AVAILABLE HERE: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmyKckG4
Today, Senator Mary Washington, Delegate Nick Mosby and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed stood alongside faith leaders and advocacy groups to announce the reintroduction of the Water Taxpayer Protection Act — a widely supported piece of legislation to remove water bills from tax sale in Baltimore City. The group gathered inside the historic St. John Alpha Omega Pentecostal Church as predominantly African American churches have become one of the top targets of the inhumane practice of sending homes and places of worship to tax sale over overdue water bills in Baltimore City.
In 2017, similar legislation sailed through the House of Delegates with unanimous support from the Baltimore City House Delegation as well as a unanimous third-reader floor vote, but ultimately failed in the Senate. This year, there is unwavering support from members of both the House and Senate City Delegations.
Councilwoman Shannon Sneed also announced the introduction of a resolution, which will occur at the January 14th Council meeting, calling on the General Assembly to pass the Water Taxpayer Protection Act. This bill comes on the heels of Baltimore becoming the first major city in the country to ban water privatization, setting itself forward as a water justice leader.
Currently, in Baltimore City, there is a moratorium on tax sales of homes for water-only liens, but as little as $750 in outstanding water bills with any amount of another outstanding lien can still send a home to tax sale. Places of worship are not covered by the moratorium, and as little as $350 in outstanding water bills can send a church or other place of worship to tax sale. The Water Taxpayer Protection Act would greatly expand the existing moratorium and create permanent protections for all homeowners, renters and places of worship by no longer allowing overdue water bills to be collected through tax sale of these properties.
Skyrocketing water rates, as well as erroneous water bills, have left families with little ability to pay. In 2017, a total of 10,839 homes were sent to tax sale and legal advocates estimate that between 70-80% of tax sales involve water bills. From 2015 to 2017, at least 26 predominantly African American churches in Baltimore were sold at tax sale, many at least in part because of unpaid water bills.
High water rates have doubled in Baltimore since 2012, and the Board of Estimates will be voting on an additional 3-year, 30% rate hike this Wednesday, January 9th. Unaffordable bills disproportionately harm African American communities and low-income residents.
“Not all city or county water systems sell unpaid debts to private companies, said Senator Mary Washington, District 43. “The officials managing the WSSC, Maryland largest public system, have repeatedly rejected attempts by special interests to use tax sale foreclosures to collect unpaid water bills. If selling homes for water bills doesn’t make sense in Prince George’s or Montgomery Counties to punish vulnerable residents already struggling to cover the cost of the element most basic to our lives, then it certainly doesn’t make sense in Baltimore City.”
“I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Baltimore's faith leaders and homeowners to dismantle the predatory and dysfunctional system that allows them to lose their homes or churches in water-related tax sales, said Delegate Nick Mosby, District 40. “Many residents have shared painful stories of struggling to keep up with unaffordable or miscalculated water bills and grappling with the loss of their property in a tax sale for as little as $1000. I'm calling on all leaders at the local and state level to join me in protecting our most vulnerable citizens and religious institutions by putting an end to this immoral policy.
“With ever-rising water rates and persistent billing errors, it is simply wrong for our city to continue the practice of using tax sale as a water collections method,” said Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, District 13. “That’s why I am fully in support of Senator Washington and Delegate Mosby’s Water Taxpayer Protection Act, and I will introduce a resolution calling for its passage at the January 14th City Council meeting. We must look for proactive solutions for our water affordability and accountability crisis, not punish our community by taking their homes and places of worship.”
“With Mary Washington, Nick Mosby and Shannon Sneed leading Baltimore to the next step towards true water justice, it’s time for us to exercise the public right we protected by banning water privatization and hold our government accountable for inhumane water bill collection practices,” said Rianna Eckel, Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer. “No person or church should have to worry about losing their property due to unaffordable or incorrect water bills. The Maryland legislature must pass the Water Taxpayer Protection Act this year to protect Baltimore families, and we’ll be here every step of the way to make sure it does.”
“My house has been added to the tax sale list twice over incorrect water bills, first in 2014 over a $1,400 bill, and again in 2017 for a $2,500 water bill,” said Kimberly Armstrong, Baltimore City resident. “Both times, my mortgage company has paid off the bills to ensure I don’t lose my house, but this has more than doubled my mortgage. All for incorrect bills that the city refused to address. Going up for tax sale has been emotionally and financially exhausting, this practice must be put to an end.”
“The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance supports the Water Taxpayer Protection Act because Baltimore needs to cease the immoral practice of taking families homes and places of worship over oftentimes fraudulent water bills,” said Reverend Alvin Gwynn, President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore. “I have worked with numerous leaders in the religious community to fight tax sales over water bills, and have been close to falling victim myself over an incorrect $3,000 bill. This must stop now, the Maryland General Assembly needs to pass the Water Taxpayer Protection Act.”