Pioneering Fair Housing Group to Shutter Its Doors

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., the city’s first and oldest fair housing organization, is shuttering its doors at the end of the month, the nonprofit announced Thursday. In a terse statement, Robert Pierson, the organization’s board chairman, said, “It is with great sadness that the BNI board came to the decision to close the organization, especially given its long, proud history and the ongoing needs in the community for its services.” The news comes as BNI, which is based in Charles Village, was gearing up to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year.  Founded in 1959, BNI was a leading advocate for housing justice in Baltimore and the state of Maryland, handling thousands of housing discrimination complaints and annually counseling tens of thousands of callers through its tenant/landlord hotline. BNI worked to advance fair housing education and enforcement and pushed to educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. BNI’s executive director for the past six years, attorney Robert J. Strupp, retired two months ago. But the organization was looking ahead, gearing up to hold a fundraiser on Oct. 13 in conjunction with a performance by Baltimore’s Arena Players of “A Raising in the Sun,” the acclaimed play about a struggling African-American family in Chicago. An online ad for the fundraiser says, “Although BNI and A Raisin in the Sun may be 60 years old, the work we do and the story the play tells are still as relevant as ever.” “While we had all hoped to see BNI through to its next chapter, it became clear that the organization faced insurmountable obstacles to its continued operation,” John Herron, who has served as interim executive director since Strupp’s departure, said in a statement. The organization was incorporated in the late 1950’s by civic activists seeking to keep neighborhoods integrated, including James Rouse, the urban planner; Sidney Hollander Jr., a marketing and political researcher and civil rights activist; and Ellsworth Rosen, who wrote a lengthy pro-integration article for The Saturday Evening Post in 1959 called “When a Negro Moves Next Door.” After Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968, BNI sent black and white people to the same real estate offices to see if they’d receive equal treatment. If they didn’t, the organization would often file suit. BNI has counseled Baltimore tenants and landlords since 1979 and expanded those services statewide after securing a grant from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation. Through the years, BNI has been supported by individual donors, The United Way of Central Maryland, local and federal government grants, corporate and foundation gifts, the religious community and other organizations. The group’s honorary board members include political leaders like U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), former congressman Kweisi Mfume, state Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) and state House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City).  “The board remains committed to helping BNI’s staff through this difficult transition and hopes BNI’s partners will continue the vital work to promote justice in housing,” Pierson said. [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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