The Board of Estimates deferred action this morning on a request by the city housing department to remove $250,000 promised to the Westport community after board president Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he was never briefed on the plan.
“I was unaware of the fund transfer,” Young said. “I want to know why the funds can’t be used in the Westport community. I have asked the housing department for answers.”
The Brew reported last night of the plan to remove the funds from Westport and allocate the money to a citywide demolition account. Last year, the housing department tried to remove the same funds to pay the Living Classrooms Foundation for its costs in rehabbing a building in East Baltimore.
Item was Obscured on Board Agenda
Young complained that the Westport item was obscured on today’s board’s agenda. “The agency had a number of transfers on page 70, which I carefully reviewed. I just didn’t see the [Westport] item,” Young said. The Westport transfer was a five-line entry at the bottom of page 71.
Young said Councilman Ed Reisinger, who represents the impoverished community south of M&T Stadium, also was not briefed on the matter.
Reisinger has not responded to requests for comment. He did not attend today’s board meeting.
Ruth Sherrill, president of the Westport Improvement Association, expressed shock when The Brew informed her of the proposed fund transfer.
She later wrote a letter of protest to Young, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt and other board members.
City Won’t Help Us, Leader Says
“For years,” Sherrill wrote in the letter, “we have asked the City for help to renovate buildings for a community service center in Westport and were told by high ranking officials that we would never be able to get any help from the City.
“This was an action between a developer and politicians and has proven to be true. When funding was found, the City attempted to give it to another neighborhood and now the same thing is happening again.”
The letter refers to a 2009 agreement to allocate $250,000 to the Westport Affordable Housing Fund to help developer Pat Turner pay for low-income housing in the community. The $250,000 was to be leveraged with city TIF bonds to rehab 70 vacant houses in the community.
Turner’s elaborate waterfront project has since collapsed, but the funds were retained in a reserve account by the housing department. Deputy Housing Commissioner Peter Engel has not responded to questions by The Brew about the funds.
Stacy Freed, director of planning and programs, referred questions to the agency’s communications office, which has not yet responded. Last year, Freed wrote to Sherrill that her office wanted “to begin discussing ways in which we might spend these funds in Westport.”
Freed and Engel met with community members, but attempts to secure some of the funds for a community center never materialized, according to Sherrill.
“What do we hear from the city? Nothing,” she said.