The City of Baltimore has been given another huge pot of money, some $641 million under the American Rescue Plan Act. New money from the Federal government to help state, county and local governments in their efforts to provide much needed financial assistance to their citizens as a result of the deadly ravages of the COVID 19 pandemic. In recent years, the City has utilized taxpayer dollars to finance fancy, costly waterfront developments, stadiums, casinos, commercial and residential developments downtown. Certain neighborhoods are flourishing even sparking some nightlife in Federal Hill, Fell’s Point, O’Donnell Square and Harbor Point.
We see kibbles and bits of this new development along North Avenue and on Greenmount Avenue. Pennsylvania Avenue and Edmondson Avenue are waiting their turn. So what’s the young Mayor to do with $641 million? First step, he creates the Baltimore City Office of Recovery, staff it and let them develop the eligibility criteria, certain policies and procedures on how these ARP funds will be utilized, allocated and eventually released to the winning proposals. The first round of applications ($250k minimum) were limited to City agencies and quasi-city agencies such as the infamous Baltimore (White) Development Corporation (aka) BDC, which is run by a lifer, a city hall insider, a former deputy mayor for economic development whose track record lacks any visible or tangible results in Black Baltimore. Yet, the BDC had already snatched up $2 million of the ARP money before the ink was dry on the Mayor’s Office of Recovery.
Recently, the office hosted virtual workshops supposedly to educate the community on how to access the application and apply for funding with the minimum request being $250.000. Few community groups have the capacity or the infrastructure to undertake such a massive windfall, thusly cutting out 99.9 percent of the community groups who really need funding.
Uptown Baltimore has watched the City underwrite beaucoup downtown developments, visitor centers, two stadiums, Pratt Street initiatives, Hyatt Regency, Hilton Hotels, Harbor East, Harbor Point and on top of all that city taxpayers almost choked on a bad deal that gave a whopping $600 million tax credit to one of the City’s wealthiest businessmen. As seen in times past in Baltimore, even the good guys are crooks. Two City police chiefs went to jail, almost two Mayors went to jail, one did, an entire unit, the BCPD Fugitive Gun Trace Task Force went to jail for lengthy sentences. Writer Ron Cassie described it this way “The crimes were committed by the plainclothes unit were part of an organized conspiracy of thievery, thuggery, and drug dealing.” Now, he was talking about cops not crooks until they were busted.
Question becomes who is going to be watching over this $641 million? For more information, visit: www.arp.baltimorecity.gov. City Hall won’t even open its doors to the citizens and taxpayers of Baltimore.
Second question: who at City Hall would you trust to handle $641 million? Let’s talk about Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. $641 million in new money in a City where Blacks are the overwhelming majority population; a City where the Black poverty rate is past 25 percent; a City where white households have 11 times more wealth that Blacks; a City where Black unemployment is three times the amount of Whites, a City where the median income of Blacks is $34,600 compared to white households at $63, 700— almost double; and a City where whites who are 25-years old or older are four times as likely to have a college degree than African Americans of the same age.
Nationally, over the past 30 years, the average household wealth of White families has grown 84 percent to $656,000, while that of African Americans only increased 27 percent to $85,000. Too many Baltimore Black families suffered financially before COVID, during COVID and without equity in the allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act funding, Black households living in poverty will not only to continue to suffer but will be in a much worse situation.
In a 2016 report titled, “The Track to Ending Two Baltimores,” writer Ajmel Quereshi of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund stated, “The City has a long history of social and economic challenges, leading to the perception that there are “Two Baltimores”— one wealthy and largely White, the second impoverished and predominantly Black.” Quereshi goes on to write [Life in Baltimore] “many African Americans continue to live in neighborhoods where jobs are scarce, unemployment is high, and substandard housing is rampart. Racial and socioeconomic segregation in Baltimore lies at the root of the Two Baltimores.”
If the $641 million American Rescue Plan Act funds are to have any tangible benefits not just to the BDCs, city agencies and quasi city government agencies, but to the more citizens, there must be daily oversight, monitoring, transparency and accountability. Otherwise, we might as well get on to another bridge to nowhere.
Lou Fields is a freelance journalist based in Baltimore. Lou hosts the Black Women Owned Business Showcase & Marketplace. He can be reached at [email protected]