Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott pledged Tuesday to tackle two of the city’s most persistent problems — violent crime and vacant housing — in his second State of the City address.
The speech, Scott’s first delivered in person due to the pandemic, touted numerous investments made during his first year in office, many thanks to a $641 million appropriation from the federal American Rescue Plan. The first-term mayor, a Democrat, has allocated nearly all the funds and made substantial investments in both violence prevention and housing and blight initiatives.
“We’ve been through a lot together in the past two years, and we have still been able to advance by leaps and bounds,” said Scott, speaking to a crowd that included most members of City Council, Comptroller Bill Henry and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
“Baltimore is rising, and that’s a fact,” Scott continued. “Violent crime and gun violence will continue to be addressed, our communities are being restored and the way in which our city government operates is being revived.”
Highlighting a $50 million investment of ARP funds that has paid for several initiatives of his nearly one-year-old crime plan, Scott said he will announce the results later this year of an internal review into Safe Streets, a violence prevention program that employs community members as violence interrupters. Safe Streets employees have repeatedly found themselves the targets of violence in the last year. Three were killed, deaths noted by Scott during his speech.
In the coming year, Scott said he will launch a community violence intervention program that will expand on the capacity of Safe Streets. The mayor said he envisions a program that offers more extensive services to victims such as life coaching, hospital-based violence intervention and school-based supports.
“This approach works and is supported by the White House as a best practice to reduce violent crime in partnership with our communities,” he said. “This shift in strategy from past efforts will help us cover more ground than the 2.6-square-miles of a 90-square-mile city that Safe Streets currently covers.”
Thus far 2022 has been a year marred by violence in Baltimore. To date the city has experienced 81 homicides, a number that outpaces the number at this point in 2021, when more than 300 people were slain for the seventh year in a row.
Scott said he plans to expand the city’s group violence reduction strategy in the coming year, a partnership with the Office of the State’s Attorney that focuses resources on people most likely to be the victims of violence or perpetuate it. The program, still in its infancy in Baltimore, has so far targeted only the city’s Western District. Scott said it will expand to other districts in the coming year.
The mayor also pledged to get an effort off the ground to assist city residents returning from prison. The Returning Citizens Behind the Wall program, first envisioned as part of Scott’s crime plan, will pay people $15 per hour to clean the city both before and after their release, Scott said, as well as offer training and other support services.
Like violence prevention initiatives, Scott also committed significant federal COVID relief funds to remediating the city’s vacant homes in the last year. At present, the city has about 15,000 vacant properties, the majority of which are privately owned.
In March, the mayor announced $100 million in ARP money would be put toward housing initiatives. About $16 million will be dedicated to a city program known as Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors, an investment Scott highlighted Tuesday.
“We must not forget out older residents,” Scott said. “They are the residents who lived through Baltimore’s racist policies and who bore the brunt of housing inequity,” Scott said. “We must ensure they have the necessary resources to age in place with the dignity and grace they deserve.”
Scott said his 2023 budget will include $500,000 for Live Baltimore to incentivize the return of Black and other residents of color to Baltimore.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said he was pleased to hear Scott commit financial assistance to aging homeowners, which he said is a sizable population in his Southwest Baltimore district. He cited a home in his district that caught fire. The blaze was caused by structural issues that weren’t addressed because the homeowner was unable to afford them. The Edmondson Avenue house remains empty today, Burnett said.
“For a long time we focused on tearing things down and rehab,” he said, “but I think a more proactive approach to preventing blight and vacancy in a first place is a good way to think about how we can resolve the problem.”
Scott’s speech touched upon several initiatives he announced in last year’s State of the City address, including a commitment to launch a guaranteed income pilot program. The pilot, originally expected to begin last fall, will assist a select group of city families with low incomes by issuing them a monthly cash payment. The program does not have a work requirement.
Scott announced Tuesday that applications will be accepted for the pilot program starting May 2.
“This is an investment in the future of our city and our young families,” Scott said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Scott’s proposed 2023 budget is to be released next week, kicking off a budget process that will culminate in June with consideration by Baltimore City Council. The mayor provided only scant details during his address, but noted he has proposed water rate increases averaging 3.2% for the next three years.
Baltimore residents have faced 9% increases each of the last three years.
Scott said he was committed to renovating the city’s aging water infrastructure while still keeping water bills affordable.
Last week, state officials stepped in to take control of Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, saying “the decline in the proper maintenance and operation of the plant risks catastrophic failures.” Baltimore officials have filed a motion for a legal review of the takeover, arguing it was “unfair and politically motivated.”
Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton said she and other members of City Council were interested in the mayor’s message about violence. Middleton coordinates a moment of silence for victims of homicide at the end of each City Council meeting.
The mayor’s plan has been laid out, she said. Now it’s time to act.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Middleton said. “We’ve got to keep instilling hope. I think he’s correct in saying it’s going to take all of us. I want the plan to start.”