Scott Announces Tax Sale Workgroup, Says Baltimore Will Purchase Liens of 454 Homes This Fall

    Baltimore will purchase the liens of 454 owner-occupied homes this fall to keep them out of the city’s tax sale process, Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) announced Thursday.

    Scott said at a press conference that purchasing the liens will help protect low-income homeowners in Baltimore.

    The city will use $1.5 million in general fund money and federal grants to purchase the 454 liens. Homeowners will not have to reimburse the city.

    Scott said Baltimore’s tax sale process “has not been fair to many of our city’s low-income homeowners.”

    “This will effectively satisfy the standing lines on those properties, taking them out of the tax sale process and allowing homeowners … to start fresh with a clean slate,” Scott said.

    Purchasing the liens is only an interim measure, Scott said. He also announced a workgroup to pursue “long-term fixes” to the city’s tax sale process, according to a release. He said that the workgroup will look at ways to overhaul tax sales in the city and will work with the General Assembly to give Baltimore more authority over the process.

    The group will be co-chaired by Daniel Ellis of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore and Deputy City Administrator Daniel Ramos. The other members of the commission are:

    • Owen Davis of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center;
    • Margaret K. Henn of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service;
    • Heidi Kenny of Kenny Law Group;
    • Nneka N’namdi of Fight Blight Bmore;
    • Shana Roth-Gormley of the Community Law Center; and
    • Claudia Wilson Randall of the Community Development Network of Maryland.

    The workgroup will also include representatives from the city’s finance, housing, public works and information technology offices.

    Ellis called tax sales “one of the most unjust systems” that he has encountered during his time working in Baltimore. City Council President Nick J. Mosby (D) noted that homeownership in the city has fallen in recent years, according to a report from the Abell Foundation, and pledged to collaborate with the workgroup to reform the city’s tax sale process.

    In May, Scott removed some owner-occupied homes that faced a lien for the first time from the city’s May 17 tax sale, an online auction that the city uses to collect overdue bills. Bidders pay for property liens owed to the city in exchange for a tax sale certificate during that auction. The holders of tax sale certificates can take ownership of the property through a foreclosure lawsuit. Property owners can reimburse the successful bidder for the liens and other charges paid during the tax sale, as well as interest and other costs imposed by the lienholder, to avoid a foreclosure.

    Some local leaders and fair housing advocates, including Councilmember Odette Ramos (D), have described tax sales as “predatory” and say they have a disparate impact on low-income and elderly homeowners.

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    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.