The Eviction Prevention Program, for 17 years a fixture in Baltimore's busy rent court helping tenants avoid losing their home and landlords get their money, will be shut down at the end of this month.
James David, who directs the program, and two tenant counselors -- Rosa Adams and Bernardine Simmons -- will be transferred to other city jobs as the Schmoke administration dismantles the Urban Services Agency, which includes the eviction prevention program.
The city will spend $100,000 to replace Mr. David and the counselors with three new contract employees.
The shutdown of the program has been protested by judges, landlords and elected officials.
Last year, the program prevented more than 1,800 evictions, according to its records.
"Why would they want to hire brand new people to do what we already do?" asked Mr. David.
"You're not dealing with just people's furniture, you're dealing with people's lives."
Joanne Selinske, director of the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services, said the city is subcontracting with the state Department of Social Services to install an expanded eviction assistance program that will include financial aid and legal assistance programs and the tenant counseling work that Mr. David's staff now performs.
In the new program, a kind of one-stop-shopping concept, tenants will no longer have to go to a separate DSS office to get grants to help pay their rent.
"The new program will be slightly different but similar to eviction prevention," said Ms. Selinske, who will oversee it. "It will be in place by the end of the month."
Asked why the city is replacing experienced people with workers who will have to be trained to do the same work, she said, "The decision was made about all Urban Services staff to offer them new positions [elsewhere in city government]."
Asked to evaluate the current program, Ms. Selinske said, "I was not in a supervisory role."
In early June, Mr. David met with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in an attempt to save the current program.
At that meeting, Mr. Schmoke promised to visit the staff in their basement office at the Eastside District Courthouse at North Avenue and Harford Road, according to Mr. David and Francis X. Borgerding, who represented the Apartment Builders and Owners Council.
But the mayor never visited, said Mr. David.
Efforts to reach the mayor were unsuccessful. His spokesman, Clint Coleman, said it would have been difficult to transfer Mr. David and the counselors to DSS because it's a state agency.
"We now have a better way of doing things and no matter who is doing the work, it will be better. It is an enhancement of services," Mr. Coleman said of the new program.
But people who have worked with Mr. David see things differently.
"If something works, don't fix it," Mr. Borgerding said he told Mr. Schmoke at the June meeting.
"This system has worked beautifully. Mr. David is well thought of. He knows what buttons to push, he has connections [with landlords] and he has saved a lot of people from being put on the street," said Mr. Borgerding, who has dealt with Mr. David for 16 years.
L Tenant advocates also speak well of Mr. David and his staff.
"It's crazy to yank them away and not make them a part of a new program. He's definitely stopped a lot of evictions," said Avery Clark, a Legal Aid lawyer who has represented tenants in rent court for 12 years.
Landlords and judges who have served in rent court have sent letters of support to the mayor. Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th, told Mr. Schmoke in a letter that "we must not permit [Mr. David] to slip through our fingers. . . ."
"There's a great deal of trust needed for this job," said Allan Amernick, who represents landlords in rent court and who wrote the mayor a letter supporting Mr. David.
"If someone out of the clear blue called a landlord and said please give this tenant an extra week to pay the rent, a landlord may be hesitant to do that. But if they know Jim David is calling, they'll be a lot more willing to give that extension," he said.
Yesterday, Mr. David and his staff continued to help tenants even though the "Eviction Prevention" sign has been removed from the office door.
Ms. Simmons called several landlords, urging them to delay evictions for a few days until tenants get paid.
Mr. David helped a tenant whose landlord had the police come to her door to tell her to leave, even though the landlord had no legal eviction notice on record in court.
Mr. David reported the incident to the police department's Eastern District where a lieutenant promised it wouldn't happen again. He helped another tenant who received an eviction notice for being short 10 cents on the rent.