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In the Media: 'Squatters' take over vacant home near Gray's arrest; Baltimore Verizon strikes

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A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: ‘Squatters’ take over home near Gray’s arrest a year later

"A coalition of activists has claimed a vacant red brick rowhouse at the site of Freddie Gray's arrest, though the city has marked the home for demolition and says it's not the activists' to use.

"The self-described squatters say they want to use what they call the 'Tubman House' — named after the underground railroad organizer Harriet Tubman — as a hub to organize food gardens and giveaways, host community cookouts and orchestrate art and occupational training courses, mainly for residents in and around neighboring Gilmor Homes.

"On Tuesday, a crowd of more than 50 activists and Gilmor residents, some of whom witnessed Gray's arrest a year ago, gathered at the same Presbury Street corner.

"'We've been asking for permission for far too long. Now is the time to act,' said organizer Brion Gill.

"Speaking to the crowd over the music of a passing ice cream truck, members of the coalition said they've tried to work through official contacts to acquire the house on the corner of Presbury and Mount streets, but have had no success.

"'We have the power to save ourselves,' said Lawrence Grandpre of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a member of the coalition. 'That's what this project is about. The question is whether the city, and whoever the mayor is — will they be amenable to these types of grassroot efforts.'

"City councilman and mayoral candidate Nick Mosby said he generally supports the group's effort and helped them determine the status of the home through the Baltimore Housing Authority.

"Tania Baker, communications director for the housing authority, did not comment on any meetings between the group and city officials. She said the authority plans to inspect the property to determine its next steps.

"The City's Department of Housing and Community Development acquired the property last year for $24,700 and relocated its residents as part of a plan to demolish and renovate that entire block of Presbury Street under the 'Vacants to Value' program, Baker said."

Full Article

From City Paper: Tearing down vacant and building up Baltimore

"In early January, Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Project C.O.R.E.—a $700 million initiative that would use $100 million to demolish vacant buildings in Baltimore City and $600 million in financing incentives to encourage developers to redesign the community with new homes and green areas.

"Project C.O.R.E. (Creating Opportunity for Renewal and Enterprise) is an initiative that promises much needed urban renewal and economic investment in deeply disinvested, redlined Black neighborhoods in Baltimore. But can the $700 million for the existing communities be put to better use? Might there be other investment projects that would yield greater dividends for the health and well-being of communities and the city itself?

"We may need to look to the crises in other urban areas for a broader understanding of what is at risk. Specifically, consider the case of lead in Flint, Michigan. Flint is a stark illustration of the result of disinvestment and short-term thinking. Its lead poison crisis and the resultant devastation to families and communities has brought it to national attention. This does not need to be Baltimore. Why might that be the case?

"Baltimore, like Flint, is a post-industrial, hypersegregated, majority African-American city that relies on the state for major support. Hyper-segregated cities, such as Flint and Baltimore, are characterized by a high degree of spatially concentrated disadvantage, according to sociologists Douglas Massey and Jonathan Tannen. This means that many of Baltimore's neighborhoods—like Freddie Gray's Sandtown-Winchester or Lucille Gorham's Middle East—have been deeply disadvantaged by 105 years of segregation and forced displacement policies including: racial zoning, racially restrictive covenants, redlining, expulsive zoning, discriminatory lending and suburban subsidization, and highway construction that undermined community viability.

"In large part due to the race/place-based policies mentioned, along with limited oversight of some rental properties and attendant lead control enforcement, many of Baltimore's disinvested Black neighborhoods are host to lead-ridden homes, both vacant and occupied.

"Science is clear on the impact of lead; there is no safe level of lead exposure. Lead poisons and damages brains (especially developing brains) and has a long-term neurological impact—children are less capable of learning and more prone to violence and criminal behavior. The individual effect on children and families and the collective impact on communities and the city – our school systems, health systems, and criminal justice systems—are significant.

"Freddie Gray was lead poisoned. How many more Freddie Grays are out there? While the Baltimore City Health Department is taking steps to mitigate lead exposure, the money for lead abatement—to correct the problem—is limited. With so much of our housing stock contaminated by lead, residents and especially our children will continue to be affected for years. Why not maximize prevention opportunities? Why not be more proactive?

"Project C.O.R.E. may be the opportunity to do something, and make it substantial. Making Baltimore lead-free and making redevelopment community-centered should be the orienting frame for Project C.O.R.E.

"Authentic community participation and a commitment to development without displacement can be a viable strategy to help revitalize Baltimore's disinvested neighborhoods. Here's how: The government can provide vouchers for families that may need to be temporarily moved while lead remediation or demolition takes place. Once new developments are built, residents can return with mandatory inclusionary zoning and housing subsidies. This approach would also feature strong enforcement of and attention to existing anti-discrimination policies, such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act.

"But because of the complexity of redevelopment projects, community interests should be protected through a legally-binding community benefits agreement where residents are safeguarded from displacement, possess decision-making power throughout the redevelopment process, and can return to new or remodeled homes."

Full Article

From the Baltimore Sun: Baltimore Verizon workers among 40,000 on strike

"After 10 months of unsuccessful labor negotiations, nearly 40,000 Verizon employees went on strike Wednesday — 3,500 of them in Maryland.

"At 7 a.m., about a dozen employees began to picket outside the company's building on St. Paul Street in downtown Baltimore. Others planned protests in Woodlawn, Randallstown, Cockeysville and Nottingham.

"The company and the Communications Workers of America, which represents workers from Massachusetts to Virginia, have been unable to reach a contract agreement due to disagreements over working conditions and job outsourcing.

"The most recent contract expired in August.

"Bill Dulaney, president of the union's Baltimore chapter, worked for Verizon as a special services technician for 40 years before retiring recently.

"He said employees are being forced to work overtime and holidays and drive longer commutes, all while their jobs are put in jeopardy because of plans to move call centers and other operations offshore.

"The union workers, carrying signs that said "Fighting Corporate Greed at Verizon" pointed out that the New York communications giant is a multi-billion-dollar company.

"Linda Gemmill, a central office technician who lives in Stewartstown, Pa., said in her 37 years at Verizon, she has been transferred to Hunt Valley, then to Baltimore — and she fears the next move will have her driving to Silver Spring every day.

"'They're forcing us to work overtime,' Gemmill said. 'They don't want to give us a fair contract. They want to move us wherever they want to move us, with no regard for where we live. They want to outsource our jobs. They haven't kept up with raises.'"

Full Article