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In the Media: Maryland ACLU App for Recording Police; Vacants to Value Questionable Numbers

Vacant properties on a block where the Vacants to Value program was working during 2015.
Vacant properties on a block where the Vacants to Value program was working during 2015.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From The Baltimore Sun: Maryland ACLU to Release App for Recording Police

"The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on Friday will release a "Mobile Justice" smartphone app that will allow residents to record and automatically submit video of alleged police misconduct.

"Maryland is one of 10 states, including Virginia and Washington, D.C., in which the free app is making its debut, the ACLU said. Similar apps exist in other states such as New York and California.

"The app allows users to upload cellphone video to an ACLU database, so even if the video is deleted from the phone or the phone is destroyed, the footage isn't lost. If it's submitted with an incident report, ACLU lawyers will treat it as legal intake, spokeswoman Meredith Curtis said."

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From City Paper: Vacants to Value’s Bogus Numbers Exposed

"The city of Baltimore boasts that its innovative Vacants to Value program has renovated 1,585 houses in its first five years. The real number, according to a comprehensive report from the Abell Foundation, is 615.

"'It is making a difference in select city neighborhoods at a time when the housing market is recovering from one of the worst recessions since the Depression,' the report, by former Sun reporter Joan Jacobson, says. 'However, this study found that the city has overstated the reach of Vacants to Value and that the program was not the catalyst for the redevelopment of hundreds of buildings included in the city's list of 1,585 properties.'

"As City Paper has previously reported, the numbers reported by the Vacants to Value (V2V for short) website and repeated by public officials have never added up. We could not verify the figures that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake cited in her 2013 state of the city address, for example, in part because the V2V documents we got were contradictory. 

"Begun in 2010, V2V is a mix of targeted enforcement and incentives to spur renovation of housing in areas that are not gentrifying but are not seen as lost causes. Owners of vacant structures were given $900 citations for code violations to spur renovation. Those who did not respond were given nuisance notices, spurring a process of "receivership" in which the city gets a judge to declare the house a nuisance and the city transfers it to a nonprofit called One House At A Time, which auctions the property. Buyers are supposed to show the ability to renovate the houses: They need to have about $90,000 in cash. Owner-occupants were offered the possibility of city loans and even grants, although the targeted populations—police, teachers, and firefighters—did not respond strongly to the program.

"Originally slated to renovate 1,500 properties in its first year, V2V garnered praise nationally for its innovative features. Rawlings-Blake even touted it during a White House Visit.

"The problem was that the numbers the program touted were never consistent, and the V2V website made it impossible to reconcile them." 

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From The Baltimore Sun: Some Riders Aghast at Hogan’s Proposed Bus Changes

"Gov. Larry Hogan says his $135 million plan to upgrade Baltimore's bus system will be 'transformative.' But rider Shannon Campbell says it includes a transformation she hopes never to see.

"As she waited at the busy corner of Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street to catch the No. 8 downtown, Campbell struggled to understand why anyone would propose eliminating bus service on much of Greenmount.

"'I've been riding the No. 8 since I was a little girl. For them to change it now would be very hard,' she said. Sitting at the bus stop with her 3-year-old daughter, Campbell said it would be difficult to walk nearly half a mile to Charles Street with children in tow to take a bus to medical appointments.

"'They're trying to serve other people,' she said of the Maryland Transit Administration plan. 'It ain't going to benefit nobody.'

"The proposal to stop running buses on Greenmount south of 39th Street is seen by transit advocates as perhaps the most glaring flaw in the first draft of Hogan's ballyhooed CityLink program, announced in the aftermath of his cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project. Transit officials emphasize that the bus plan is subject to revision, but it is already raising concerns about the intentions of a Republican governor who has made highways his transportation priority."

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