Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay proudly calls himself the “social democrat” of the Annapolis City Council, “Like Bernie or AOC,” he said Monday, invoking Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Gay made the comparison before introducing 11 amendments at the City Council’s annual all-day budget amendment meeting. More than 50 proposals were on the table, with amendments 36-46 proposed by Gay.
Similar to the annual Vote-arama day in U.S. Senate, the budget amendment meeting gave council members a chance to tout projects related to their wards, committees and other personal interests. Most of the approved amendments will be funded through $1.775 million set aside in the city’s one-time-uses reserve fund. Others draw on leftover federal COVID-19 relief money.
Although he withdrew two and only four of the remaining amendments passed, the youngest council member was ecstatic when he left City Hall.
“Housing! We got housing!” the 26-year-old Gay said, as he ran down the steps. He was excited about a $500,000 loan program that will help landlords address deferred maintenance at rental properties, provided that the repaired units are leased by people who make between 80% and 120% of the area median income, which is $86,302 for the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson statistical area.
Gay said he modeled his proposal on Pennsylvania’s Whole-Home Repairs Program, an initiative funded by money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“I just took the state law and made it a city law,” Gay said.
Program management would likely have to be outsourced, Gay said, with support from Community and Economic Development Administrator Theresa Wellman, but the city would need to verify the proposed work.
Other details have yet to be worked out, but Gay said he is also proposing that conditions attached to the loan ensure that tenants meet the income requirements. He was motivated, in part, by his work as chair of the council’s Housing and Human Welfare Committee. At a series of hearings last fall, the committee questioned landlords who faced multiple violations after city inspectors discovered mold, rodent infestations, water damage and other issues at their properties.
Gay said he hopes the loan program will encourage landlords to make substantive improvements and bolster the city’s available rental stock. Funding for the effort will include $250,000 from the city’s one-time reserves, and $250,000 from ARPA.
“The intent is to help working class Annapolitans and the landlords as well,” Gay said. “It provides an opportunity to create safe, affordable housing.”
The measure passed 7-1, with Ward 3 Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles abstaining because she is a landlord. Only Mayor Gavin Buckley, who recently had a plan approved to build six new apartments on a West Street property he owns with a business partner, voted “no.”
“It’s a good idea,” Buckley said, but he told colleagues he was voting “no” to try and roll more ARPA funding into fiscal 2025.
Ward 7 Alderman Rob Savidge countered that a rental maintenance loan program was “an appropriate use of ARPA funding,” given the likelihood of pandemic-related maintenance and supply chain issues affecting landlords.
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Savidge and several other council members did have some concerns about program logistics but thought the loan program could potentially become a permanent, revolving fund.
“The devil is in the details,” Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett acknowledged, adding that constituents frequently call to complain about landlords who refuse to make crucial repairs.
“This is a necessary thing to do,” Arnett said.
The amendments Gay withdrew were a $300,000 allocation for a consultant to develop a universal basic income program, and a study to consider uses for and modification of Collison Field. Recreation and Parks Director Roslyn Johnson said that study would overlap with a departmentwide assessment already accounted for in the city budget.
Gay’s five amendments that failed to pass included three proposed changes to the community grant program, adding money to the city’s internship program, and $100,000 for a “Neighborhood Watch” initiative that would have allowed the Annapolis Police Department to better interface with residential Ring cameras and other similar technology. Several council members who voted “no” said the program was “too Big Brother.”
The amended fiscal 2024 budget will now be up for a final vote at the council’s next meeting on Monday.
Other Gay budget amendments that were approved by his colleagues include:
- $105,000 to establish a grant program for minority business startups, funded by the reserve for one-time uses.
- $3,000 for the Office of Emergency Management to make sure that when a warming center is opened during winter months, staff are paid $15 an hour. The salaries will be funded with ARPA money.
- $100,000 for the Office of Community Services to continue the Family and Children Success Grants, a child care assistance program that Gay established through the budget amendment process last year. The program distributes money to nonprofit child care programs and allows them to provide free services to Annapolis residents. Gay said the program this fiscal year helped more than 70 city families. “It was, in my opinion, wildly successfully,” Gay said. The program will be funded through a mix of sources.