Increasing tax credits to support investment in low-income communities, supporting summer jobs programs and helping ex-offenders expunge their criminal records are some of the priorities to help Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods, community activists said Monday.
A week after riots erupted in Baltimore, a group of political, religious and community leaders met at the Greater Baltimore Urban League to discuss what the next steps for the low-income areas of the city ought to be.
“[We need] to give an example for the nation as to how we can truly make a difference in Baltimore,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who was joined by congressional colleagues Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. John Sarbanes at the event.
Among the suggestions was that Congress should make permanent the federal New Markets Tax Credit, designed to increase capital to low-income communities by offering a a tax break to private investors. That idea was offered by the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church.
Hathaway said the program, established in 2000, was a big help to the city of New Orleans as it worked to rebuild following Hurricane Katrina; reports from the U.S. Treasure Department also tout the program’s success in Louisiana.
Cardin said the Congress was working on a permanent extension of such tax credits but that those credits needed to be targeted better to make them more effective.
While several participants spoke of the need for more career-focused employment in the city, creating jobs in the short term was a priority for Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland NAACP State Conference.
A summer jobs program was urgently needed for troubled neighborhoods such as Sandtown, Stansbury said.
That neighborhood was the home of Freddie Gray, whose death after suffering a spinal injury in police custody preceded the unrest. It was also one of the areas at the center of the riots.
The Sandtown area has also been the focus of Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City Branch NAACP, over the past week. The day after the riots, Hill-Aston opened a temporary office in Sandtown to begin working with residents and to better understand their needs, she said.
“They’re hurting, they’ve been left out,” Hill-Aston said. “We need to finish what we started,” she said, referring to stalled efforts to revitalize the area in the past.
Volunteers were working out of the new office, including lawyers who were helping residents file for expungments of their criminal records.
After the discussion, Hill-Aston explained that the NAACP is often contacted by residents who were temporarily jailed for minor offenses, only to have the charges dropped; many then lose their jobs as a result, and the dropped criminal charges on their record can prevent them from finding future work.
“Some if it is a result of over-aggressive police locking them up,” Hill-Aston said.
Cardin also addressed the topic of better policing, touting legislation he’s submitted to prohibit racial profiling nationwide.
Miksulski also voiced her support for the bill, and spoke of the need to bring long-term, career-oriented jobs back to Baltimore like those that the manufacturing industry used to provide.
Later on Monday, a coalition of community and labor groups — which included Hathaway — calling itself One Baltimore United asked city leaders to develop a comprehensive strategy to end police brutality and create more jobs and affordable housing.
“We’re asking the political leadership to really make the community a priority,” said Luis Larine, leadership organizer with United Workers, one of the coalition partners.
Among the group’s requests were to increase local hiring and wages on development projects in the city and for the city to invest in community land trusts for affordable housing, Larine said.
“We need more public investment for public gain,” he said.
At a One Baltimore press conference outside City Hall, Jermaine Johns, business manager with Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 710, said his union opened an apprenticeship program in the Sandtown area a few years ago and trained several hundred local residents for construction work.
But the local hiring requirements need to be strengthened to help these people find work, Jones said, adding that he would like to see a requirement that 30 percent of the man-hours for any development project that receives public funding go to local employees.
“That’s the investment we need in our community nowadays,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re demanding today.”
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