No One Should Lose their Home – or Church to a Water Bill

Del. Washington and community leaders advocate end to tax sales for water bill debts (press release)

Baltimore, MD – June 2, 2017: On Thursday June 1, Delegate Mary Washington of Maryland’s 43rd District stood with faith leaders and city advocates at Friendship United Baptist Church in Baltimore to call for a moratorium on the city’s practice of selling water bills to outside investors, who can use liens to push homeowners and city congregations out of their properties.

“No one in Baltimore City, or the state of Maryland, should lose their home because of an unpaid water debt,” Del. Washington argued. “We’re here to call for a moratorium. The tax sale process is inhumane, the tax sale process is unfair… water is not a tax… water [bills] should not participate in the tax sale process at all,” she said.

Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition; Mitch Jones, senior policy advocate for Food and Water Watch; Dan Ellis, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore; and Reverend Dr. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore joined Del. Washington in urging city and state officials to immediately establish a moratorium on the sale of tax liens based on water bills.

The tax sale practice has long been a serious threat to city homeowners, who can lose homes if they can’t pay off a lien for water debts as small as $750. Advocates argued that the practice devastates city homeowners and communities, and hits low-income older women and African-American families particularly hard.

The threat it poses to city congregations was thrown into stark relief when The Sun reported that in the past three years investor Christopher Bryan has used limited-liability corporations to buy liens on at least 26 predominantly African-American churches at the city’s annual tax auction. Mr. Bryan is working to foreclose on those debts – and displace these congregations.

Del. Washington sought the help of a pro-bono community attorney to litigate on behalf of the William S. Barnes Sr. Memorial Apostolic Church. In just a matter of days, the legal defense bought the church another month in their space.“The whole idea that the state would… allow local jurisdictions to be party to a systemic targeting of religious institutions for profit by out-of-state entities is intolerable,” Del.Washington believes.   

During last year’s legislative session, Del. Washington sponsored several bills to protect Marylanders against water bill costs and tax liens including HB 453, a bill that would have put a one-year moratorium on such sales. That bill passed the House with overwhelming support; however, it died in the Senate committee after the city of Baltimore, and other municipalities, lobbied hard to defeat it.

Del. Washington is committed to working with her colleagues, constituents, and advocates to continue pushing for an end to water-only tax sales and reform to the tax sale process.

Delegate Mary Washington represents Maryland’s 43rd District. She can be contacted at mary.washington@house.state.md.us.