Last night, Delegate Mary Washington (D-43) introduced the Water Taxpayer Protection Act to permanently remove water bills from tax sale in Baltimore City. During the 2017 legislative session, similar legislation sponsored by Delegate Washington which called for a statewide one year moratorium on water only tax sale, passed the House of Delegates but did not pass through the Senate. The Water Taxpayer Protection Act would ensure that water bills will never trigger a tax lien certificate sale, even if it is not the sole outstanding charge owed to Baltimore City.
“The Water Taxpayer Protection Act will protect Baltimore families from losing their homes simply because they can’t afford to pay their water bills,” said Del. Mary Washington. “Water lien foreclosures can decimate neighborhoods across Baltimore and can even cause our most vulnerable residents, like seniors, to experience homelessness. We must put an end to this inhumane practice.”
The bill is co-sponsored by 15 of the 16 Delegates (Ali, Anderson, Clippinger, Conaway, Gibson, Glenn, Hayes, Haynes, Lewis, Lierman, McCray, McIntosh, Mosby and Rosenberg) representing Baltimore City. In 2017, about 1,000 homes were placed on the tax sale list for unpaid water bills. Last December, Mayor Catherine Pugh issued an order that no homeowner-occupied properties will be sent to tax sale for water bills alone. However, State law still allows owner-occupied homes to be placed on the tax sale list if they owe $750 in water bills and their payments are nine months late.
In 2017, Loch Raven resident Joyce Glasco was added to the tax sale list due to outstanding water bills. After a 40 year career in dentistry, Glasco suffered from 3 strokes and brain hemorrhaging. “At 69, I’m forced to look for another job just so I don’t lose my house. I’m just trying to hold it together. Between physical therapy, heating my home and paying my water bill, I’m just trying to get by. At this age, I don’t want to deal with losing my house over a water bill. We need our legislators to pass this bill so that others don’t have to go through the stressful process I lived to save my home. I really went through it,” Glasco said.
For non-homeowner occupied properties, tax sale can be triggered for $350 in outstanding water bills. Among the homes on the tax sale list were 26 churches, all of them were African American congregations.
“Tax sales over water bills are an immoral attack on our poorest residents and our churches,” said Rev. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. “This unjust practice has been targeting our African American churches. We must come together to protect our congregations and churches from the abuses of water-related tax sales.”
Water rates in Baltimore City have more than quadrupled since the year 2000. The City currently faces a conundrum: the cost of unavoidable improvements to the water and sewer system is coming up against households’ ability to pay for the rate increases to fund those improvements. A recent report shows that by 2019, water bills will be unaffordable for the typical household in more than half the city.
“Del. Washington’s bill provides an urgently needed protection for low-income tenants in Baltimore,” said Molly Amster with Jews United For Justice. “Her bill goes beyond Mayor Pugh’s recent order to protect renting families from seeing their homes sold right out from beneath them. The Maryland legislature must pass the the Water Taxpayer Protection Act and they must do it today. ”
“We applaud Del. Washington for introducing this principled legislation to protect Baltimore residents from losing their homes and churches because of unaffordable water bills,” said Rianna Eckel, Baltimore organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The state must immediately outlaw tax sales over water bills in Baltimore. We call for the swift passage of the Water Taxpayer Protection Act.”