On Tuesday, February 22, Brandon Scott, the Mayor of Baltimore, pledged to spend up to $90.4 million to fight homelessness across the city. This plan includes a number of ambitious goals, including the purchasing, renovation, and operational assistance for 2 hotels that are to serve as emergency housing.
At a local press conference, Scott claimed that the insecurity of housing, as well as general homelessness in the city, are a public health crisis and a lesson learned from providing additional living during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past 2 years, Baltimore and many other cities have housed numerous populations of homeless people in the rooms of hotels to prevent the disease from spreading.
"If we were going to follow through on our commitments to our residents and make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring, we have to make more dollars available for people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity to access essential housing" - Mayor Scott
A spokesman representing Scott's office stated that while the city is currently deliberating over buying several hotel properties, no final decision has been made. Just this week, a union of local hotel staffers said that both the Holiday Inn Baltimore - Inner Habor and the Radisson Hotel Baltimore Downtown - Inner Harbor plan to shut their doors by the end of the first week of March. In a statement, the union claimed that these owners plan to convert the centers into living spaces.
Of the grand total to be allocated towards this grand endeavor, the mayor stated that $75 million would come from money received by the federal government on behalf of the America Rescue Plan, the Biden Administration's latest aid package to deal with COVID-19. The mayor stated that the plan represents the city's largest investment in its history to stop the spread of homelessness.
Furthermore, the fund would also serve to provide as well as streamline assisted rentals to prevent the rate of homelessness, maximize the availability of permanent supportive housing and provide various other services like case management to people who decide to remain in the hotels.
"We are here today because the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the challenges our residents face and exacerbated short and long-term housing loss in our community...we can no longer allow our most vulnerable residents to remain unhoused." - Mayor Scott
In accordance with a city report issued in 2020, close to 2,200 people are homeless in Baltimore on any particular night. Additionally, the report stated that homeless people are disproportionately African American, and more young folk are homeless in Baltimore than any of Maryland's other jurisdictions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established an eviction moratorium that allowed distressed individuals to remain at home. However, this was recently lifted in August 2021.
The average cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Baltimore City is approximately $1,500, a place where approximately 25% of all residents live close to or even below the poverty line. As the local economy recovers from the aftermath of COVID-19, both the rental and housing markets of Baltimore are seeing substantial price spikes.
"This investment is about looking at access to housing as a fundamental human right and connecting residents experiencing homelessness to the services and resources they need to get back on their feet." - Mayor Scott