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Mosby’s dollar house proposal fails to move out of committee after split vote

25th st vacants.jpg
Baltimore Heritage/Flickr
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A vacant home on 25th St. City Council President Nick Mosby has proposed a revival of Baltimore's famed dollar home program.

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby’s proposal to revive the famed dollar house program failed to get out of committee Thursday after a split vote.

Mosby framed the vote, the first since it was introduced in November, as just another step in the legislative process, saying he will continue to work on the bill before bringing it back to the council.

“We'll come back and continue to work through any amendments or any problems or questions or concerns that council members may have,” he said.

The Democrat’s legislation would allow legacy Baltimoreans to lease city-owned vacant homes for a dollar a year while they pay for badly needed repairs and renovations. If they bring the property up to code within two years, the city would transfer the deed to them.

Mayor Brandon Scott has said he will carefully consider the measure should it pass the council. But behind the scenes, Scott aides have lobbied the council’s progressive wing – Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Kristerfer Burnett and Odette Ramos – to defeat the legislation. Senior administration officials, including Kennedy, have harshly criticized the proposals since they were introduced in November.

Dorsey was absent, but his fellow progressives were joined by Mark Conway, Phylicia Porter, Danielle McCray and James Torrence in their no votes. Mosby, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Eric Costello, Robert Stokes, Sharon Green Middleton, Antonio Glover and John Bullock threw their support behind the bill.

The bill’s failure to move forward capped off a slew of virtual hearings held Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights to discuss the legislation and amendments designed to strengthen its likelihood of passing.

Those amendments were incomplete during the first two hearings; one included “XXX” in place of a number tied to median sale prices, prompting confusion from council members and Scott administration officials alike.

Despite the split vote, the council approved the complete amendments on Thursday, including one put forward by Comptroller Bill Henry to double the amount of grant money residents could receive to renovate dollar house properties from $25,000 to $50,000. They did not vote on the home repair grant program Henry’s amendment was tied to.

His suggestion addresses a common critique of Mosby’s legislation from Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy and other housing experts: that renovating one of the city’s decrepit vacant homes would cost at least $100,000, a sum that residents eligible for the program would not be likely to afford. While some home repair loans cater to homeowners, dollar house program participants would be leasing the properties from the city during renovations.

“We were having difficulty trying to follow a path of lenders lending money for rehab when people were lending it to don't have actual title to the property,” Henry said.

It was not immediately clear how the amendment would affect the legislation’s price tag, should Mosby continue to push for the bill.

Mosby originally proposed the city pay for the package of legislation using $200 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The federal stimulus bill gave Baltimore $641 million to use on pandemic-related programming.

Mosby first proposed the program to serve legacy residents who could demonstrate they were harmed by redlining. The changes updated the eligibility factors to include first time homebuyers, as well as those residing in areas that have been subject to redlining, neighborhoods that receive at least $200 per household in certain anti-poverty programs and neighborhoods where the median home sale price is below $190,000.

Mayor Scott controls ARPA spending.