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Renter Advocates Say Mosby Housing Town Hall Adds Insult To Injury

Nick Mosby hosting a virtual housing town hall Tuesday
Screenshot via Baltimore City Council President Nick J. Mosby
Nick Mosby hosting a virtual housing town hall Tuesday

A virtual housing town hall that Baltimore City Council leaders held Tuesday night drew backlash from the city’s renter advocates.

“It was just insulting, and it was infuriating,” said renter and advocate Tisha Guthrie. “I had at least 10 questions in the queue on WebEx. And none of them were answered. None of them were addressed.”

The town hall, hosted by City Council President Nick Mosby and Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, centered on a bill that would create alternatives to security deposits.

Housing advocates, however, say the bill promotes predatory practices that harm renters.

The bill, which passed the City Council overwhelmingly, proposes “surety bonds,” which it calls security deposit insurance.

Mosby and Middleton have called the bill “renters choice,'' suggesting that renters who can’t afford to pay security deposit upfront can either choose to buy surety bonds or pay their deposit in installments.

But Molly Amster from Jews United for Justice said the wording of the bill does not require landlords to give renters all alternatives listed in the bill as options. The Baltimore City Law Department has also backed that interpretation.

“The likelihood that a landlord chooses that they're going to offer as the alternative, the surety bond, we think is quite high,” Amster said.

Mosby dismissed the concerns as “misconceptions” and claimed the bill was based on community input.

“There was a tremendous amount of back and forth, as relates to dealing with advocates dealing with the community to ensure that everybody was kind of on the same page,” Mosby said.

That statement, Guthrie said, is misleading.

“Community can be a whole slough of things,” she said. “Because you haven't been to my community. You haven't spoken to renters that I know.”

Middleton said the bill will help Black and Brown renters.

“As a Black woman myself, I have personally experienced a number of these problems,” she said.

But Terrel Askew from United Workers said city leaders have not considered his experience and that of other renters.

"I'm acutely aware of how my leaders try to minimize my experience to fit their narrative," he said. “If this bill was a good bill, then you would want my informed consent. Because you would want me to be all in on this bill.”

The bill is still on the mayor’s desk. Baltimore Renters United, a coalition of renters, organizers and various groups like the Public Justice Center and Jews United For Justice (JUFJ) held a rally last week in front of City Hall, demanding that the mayor veto the bill. Kobi Little, president of Baltimore’s chapter of the NAACP, has also publicly expressed his opposition to the bill.

Mosby and Middleton have suggested that opponents were late with expressing their concerns. For organizer Caitlin Goldblatt, that was frustrating.

“We had to sit in that room and hear that we did nothing from the beginning. And we're only just showing up now,” Goldblatt said. “But that's just not the case.”

Goldblatt said council members were lobbied by Rhino, a company which sells surety bonds. She said the company has engaged in predatory practices, like improperly charging renters, which can damage their credit.

“Rhino becomes your debt collector,” she said. “And I've seen firsthand, in my legal experience, that debt collection in Baltimore is vicious.”

Mosby also denied any relationship with Rhino and says it’s just one of several companies offering the bonds.

Meanwhile, Goldblatt said she is disappointed that Scott has not decided whether to veto the bill.

“We call on the mayor to veto the bill. And we are calling on the city council to change course,” she said.

Should the mayor veto the bill, the City Council could override his veto with enough votes. While it’s not yet clear whether the Council would override a possible veto, only two councilmembers — Ryan Dorsey and Zeke Cohen — voted against the bill before it went to the mayor.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.