Baltimore, MD (Oct. 5) -- Today the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition and Baltimore Renters United joined together to celebrate the introduction of two pieces of legislation sponsored by City Council President Brandon Scott that will help keep people in their homes and save Baltimore City government money.
The first bill is right-to-counsel legislation that will establish the right to an attorney for tenants in eviction cases, the second is legislation to update the implementation timeline for the Water Accountability & Equity Act that Mayor Young indefinitely delayed by executive order in July. Both bills will help keep Baltimore individuals and families in their homes and save the city money. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our homes, communities, the economy, and the City’s revenues, Baltimore is prioritizing cost-effective solutions to avoid an eviction crisis and to help families afford the most basic of human needs, water.
“COVID-19 continues to have a major impact on our communities, and Baltimoreans need support now more than ever,” said Council President Brandon Scott. “With the delay of the Water Accountability and Equity Act’s implementation and eviction protections for renters scarce, we need to take action to get relief and support to our residents as soon as possible.”
“Baltimoreans need the provisions in the Water Accountability & Equity Act now more than ever,” said Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Action. “Baltimore was already facing a water affordability crisis before the coronavirus pandemic, and the ensuing financial crisis and an October 1st 10% water rate increase have only worsened our water woes. We applaud and thank the Council President for introducing this legislation to get the stalled, yet deeply needed, WAEA back on track, and bring us another step closer to a more just, equitable water billing system.”
“Implementing a right-to-counsel program and the long-delayed Water Accountability and Equity Act will help tens of thousands of Baltimore residents, keep people in their homes, prevent further spread of COVD-19, and save our local and state governments more than $54 million,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice. “Inaction would be both cold-hearted and fiscally irresponsible.”
Right to Counsel In Evictions
By passing Council Bill No. 20-0625 “Landlord-Tenant-Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases” Baltimore City will join Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, Cleveland and others in recognizing that the right to an attorney in eviction cases is a proven, cost-effective means of preventing eviction. A recent report by Stout Risisus Ross shows that an annual investment of $5.7 million in a right to counsel for Baltimore tenants facing eviction would yield $35.6 million in benefits or costs avoided to the City and State by reducing homelessness caused by eviction. Costs savings or benefits include costs related to homeless shelters, Medicaid spending in hospitals, lost state funding to City schools, and foster care costs.
Further, according to the study, 92% of represented tenants would avoid disruptive displacement with a right to counsel in Baltimore City. This translates to 5,777 households and 17,300 people each year. Even before the pandemic, Baltimore’s eviction rate was almost 2.5 times the national average, with 6,500 families evicted each year. The Right to Counsel bill would also address the disparate impact of evictions on Black people and women in Baltimore. A recentstudy by Dr. Timothy Thomas PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley’s Evictions Study and Urban Displacement Project Evictions, shows that the number of Black women evicted is 3.9 times higher (296% more) than the number of white men evicted.
“My landlord is retaliating against me and breaking the law with this eviction action in the middle of a pandemic,” said Shalonda Glascoe, a Baltimore City resident facing multiple eviction cases filed by her landlord, which is represented by an attorney. “My lawyer is helping me fight back so we can tell the court what is really going on. No one should have to face an eviction action alone. This is about dignity and respect for all City residents, and that is why this legislation is so important.”
According to Public Justice Center Attorney Matt Hill, “Passing this right-to-counsel legislation will help address the disparate racial impact of evictions in Baltimore, level the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants, ensure that many families can stay in their homes and save the City and State money over time. In addition to reinstating an eviction moratorium, we demand that a right to counsel, rental assistance, and permanently affordable housing be central to the COVID-19 response, and this legislation takes an important step forward in that regard.” Baltimore Renters United has created a fact sheet providing additional information about the bill.
Water Accountability & Equity Act Update
The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed the Water Accountability & Equity Act in November, 2019. The groundbreaking legislation will improve the city’s water billing practices by (1) setting up a comprehensive Water For All affordability program and (2) creating a new independent Office of the Customer Advocate to handle disputes. On July 9, four days before these programs became legally effective, Mayor Young issued an executive order to delay their effective date until 30 days after the end of the Covid-19 state of emergency.
This legislation will allow the next mayor to revoke that executive order and get back on track to implement the much needed WAEA. The bill introduced tonight will set strong, realistic implementation timelines with benchmarks to track and ensure progress is being made, improve protections for renting families - who make up more than half of Baltimore residents and struggle to access existing DPW assistance - and strengthen safeguards assuring the fairer treatment of all DPW customers.
A fiscal analysis of the Water-for-All affordability program and current BH2O Assists discount program done by the Council President’s office showed that over 5 years, the Water-for-All program would cost nearly 20 million dollars less than BH2O Assists. The analysis shows BH2O Assists costing just over $63 million over 5 years, and the Water-for-All program costing just under $44.1 million.
“The WAEA was sorely needed two years ago when it was first introduced, and it is even more necessary today to ensure that water customers are treated fairly,” said Jaime Lee, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Contact: Seth Gladstone - sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org