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Baltimore city earmarks $14.7 million COVID-19 relief funds for community trash removal

Bethany Raja
Neighborhoods with high concentrations of vacant homes are among those eligible for trash removal.

The city of Baltimore carved out $14.7 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus pandemic relief funds for trash clean up efforts in longtime neglected neighborhoods.

The Board of Estimates, the city’s spending arm, approved the measure known as the Clean Corps initiative on Wednesday.

Clean Corps will enable selected community groups to hire local residents to clean public spaces across 15 neighborhoods out of 33 eligible communities. The Baltimore Civic Fund expects to issue a request for applications later this month.

Each neighborhood is allocated $340,000 over two and a half years through the program which the city expects to become a stepping stone for full-time city employment. Individuals will earn $15 an hour tackling the most common service requests from trash removal to overgrown grass.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for economic development, but also community engagement. Very positive community engagement,” said Jason Mitchell director of Baltimore city public works.

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A map of the eligible neighborhoods for the city's Clean Corps program.

During the height of the pandemic related lockdown, the city’s public works department had a worker shortage due to many COVID-19 cases. Regular trash routes were postponed so keeping vacant lots, alleys and other public spaces clean was almost impossible.

But those worker shortages have continued years later.

“So having programs like this and developing pipelines for Baltimore, city residents in cleaning their community and doing some of the same work that we do here at Baltimore Public Works, is a great opportunity for those residents to then be employed by the city in which they work and live,” Mitchell said.

It’s not just about cleaning, but about building partnerships and community, he said.

“It brings neighborhoods together. It’s not just going out and cleaning. It’s doing that in community and building community and building our community partnership. Getting to know your neighbor, getting to understand and meeting your neighbors at clean-ups. Those are all just things that build this community,” he said.

Planning Department Director Chris Ryer said his department started working on this five years ago in some of the neighborhoods where there has been population loss due to demolition.

“Most community people will say a vacant lot is a lot better than a vacant building, but still have maintenance issues with a vacant lot,” Ryer said.

This new initiative, he said, stems from those efforts. The goal is after the federal money runs out new funding is sought to continue the program and even expand it.

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Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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