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As deadline for veto override approaches, Baltimore Council President Nick Mosby pitches security deposit grants

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby will introduce an emergency measure to offer grants to people to help pay security deposits in the wake of Mayor Brandon Scott’s veto of a deposit alternatives bill.

Mosby, a Democrat, wrote a letter Friday to Scott about his plan to introduce the legislation next week. Mosby described grants of up to $2,000, based on renters’ incomes, to aid them in making security deposits.

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The letter came shortly before a Tuesday deadline for the council to attempt to override Scott’s veto of the security deposit bill. That legislation, introduced by Democratic Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, would have required landlords with 10 or more units who charge a deposit of more than 60% of a month’s rent to offer tenants payment alternatives: either pay the deposit in three monthly installments or buy what it called “rental security insurance.”

The bill passed on a 12-2 vote with one abstention, but some council members objected to the insurance provision.

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They argued “insurance” is a misleading term for this type of security deposit alternative, which is typically offered via a surety bond. In such an arrangement, a tenant often pays a nonrefundable premium that is lower than a typical lump-sum deposit. In exchange, the bond company pays damage claims made by the landlord. Then, the company bills the tenant for the costs.

Supporters of the bill argued the plan would have given renters more options. Housing advocacy groups, however, campaigned for Scott’s veto, saying it would create a system that preyed on tenants.

In his veto message last month, Scott said he “could not ignore” the concerns expressed for “already vulnerable residents” by activists, tenant advocates and other progressive groups.

Since then, several of the bill’s initial supporters on the council have announced they would vote to sustain the veto — enough that a successful override appears unlikely. Ten votes of the 15-member board are required to override a veto.

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Mosby’s spokeswoman, Yvonne Wenger, did not answer Friday when asked whether Mosby planned to call for an override vote.

Scott’s spokesman, Cal Harris, said Friday that the mayor applauds Mosby and Middleton for their “altruistic intent.”

“He continues to acknowledge their commitment after receiving today’s letter,” Harris said.

“Prior to issuing the veto, Mayor Scott engaged the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success and the Department of Housing and Community Development to explore a more equitable approach to support Baltimore families while safeguarding the rights of renters,” Harris said. “An announcement from the mayor is forthcoming as a result of this collaborative effort.”

Mosby asked in his letter for the mayor’s support for the legislation he plans to introduce.

“What relief will we provide for those who cannot afford installments, no matter how many months we spread it out?” Mosby wrote.

Mosby suggested funding for the program could come from the federal American Rescue Plan or from “savings the administration carves out of the police budget.” Baltimore is due to receive $640 million from the federal coronavirus relief package enacted in March. Scott’s administration controls how that money is spent.

The council is due to vote Tuesday on Scott’s proposed $4.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Council members can cut funding from the plan, including the $555 million police budget, but the board does not have the power to reallocate that funding.

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