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The Dripby Ian Round12:43 pmApr 28, 20200

Scott introduces bill to stop rent increases during pandemic

Another bill, passed unanimously, will use $9 million from the Children and Youth Fund to aid distance learning and address hunger

Above: Screenshot of last night’s City Council’s virtual meeting. (CharmTV)

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott has introduced an ordinance prohibiting landlords from increasing rent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, Scott called on the federal government to create a fund to support renters.

“When you don’t know where your next check is coming from, you shouldn’t have to worry about your landlord raising rent,” Scott said during last night’s virtual meeting.

In a city where more than half of residents rent their homes, he said, steps must be taken to protect more than homeowners.

Scott’s bill also prohibits fees for late payments or nonpayments.

Without a freeze on rent and mortgages, tenants and homeowners still have to pay every month. But Gov. Larry Hogan has prohibited foreclosures and evictions until 90 days after the end of the state of emergency, if the resident can show that the pandemic put them out of work.

“What we’re doing here is trying to strike a balance” between tenant and landlord interests, Scott said.

Asked why he didn’t pursue more aggressive pro-tenant legislation, such as forgiving rent during the state of emergency, Scott said he was seeking a balance.

“What we’re doing here is trying to strike a balance, but also to follow best practices that we’re seeing across the country,” Scott told The Brew.

Tapping into the Youth Fund

The Council also passed a bill to feed more people and get devices into students’ hands in order to facilitate distance learning using about $9 million from the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Zeke Cohen, makes an emergency request of $6 million for food relief and $3 million to buy computer equipment aimed at closing the digital divide.

“We heard from parents, teachers, and students who cannot learn because they don’t have a laptop and can’t get online”  – Councilman Zeke Cohen.

Scott suspended procedural rules to allow the bill to pass its second and third readings on the same day, so that it would get to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s desk as soon as possible.

“This request comes directly from our community,” Cohen wrote on Twitter. “We heard from parents, teachers, and students who cannot learn because they don’t have a laptop and can’t get online.”

Scott said more information will come later about what exactly that money will buy.

Other Council Action

Councilman Bill Henry’s proposed charter amendment giving subpoena power to the city auditor passed its final reading and is headed to the mayor.

The auditor is part of the office of the comptroller, the citywide office for which Henry is running against incumbent Joan Pratt in the June primary. The bill is part of Henry’s campaign for accountability and transparency reform.

“Audits are the city’s strongest tool in overseeing agencies,” Henry said in a statement.

A community benefits district for Port Covington passed its second reading. But the bill comes with a notable loophole for Under Armour, the athletic apparel company founded by Kevin Plank, who won Council approval in 2016 for large tax incentives to develop Port Covington.

The map defining the district excludes land owned by Under Armour, meaning the company won’t have to contribute. Ryan Dorsey was the only Council member to vote against it.

“I can’t accept that they’re not going to contribute,” Dorsey said.

Political Gestures

The Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on city residents to celebrate healthcare workers on May 1 at 7 p.m.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed asked residents to stand outside their front door or at their windows and clap and cheer, following similar nightly celebrations in New York City.

Five years after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, Scott credited the “Uprising” movement with pushing the city in a more progressive and equitable direction. But he said the unrest was about more than Gray’s death in police custody.

“Those who truly understand Baltimore know it was much larger than that,” he said. “I know that progress has been made over the past five years. I think it’s important to notice that some great change has happened.”

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