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by Fern Shen12:25 pmMar 12, 20240

Amid criticism of management of ARPA funds, Scott announces $30 million for affordable housing

Baltimore’s mayor chides “Monday morning quarterbacks” as political opponents note that only 28% of the city’s pandemic relief windfall has so far been spent

Above: U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott stand with Daniel McCarthy as his organization, Episcopal Housing Corporation, receives a $7 million grant for affordable housing. (Charm TV)

Mayor Brandon Scott was upbeat as he announced the awarding of nearly $30 million in grants for affordable housing projects planned in Baltimore, using the city’s $641 million in federal ARPA funds.

At an event held at a West Baltimore church, recipients of the grants came up to the microphone one by one yesterday to be recognized and handed a certificate.

• Among these was $1.9 million for the Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation for 33 units of permanent supportive housing for men experiencing homelessness.

• There was $2.75 million for Belvedere Place LLC for a mixed-use development in Park Heights also to include 83 units of affordable housing and 11 apartment units to be designated permanent supportive housing.

• Another $3.4 million will go to HCH Real Estate, a 501(c)(3) offshoot of Health Care for the Homeless, for a 42-unit, mixed-income building that will incorporate 21 permanent supportive housing units.

• And $7 million to the Episcopal Housing Corporation – the largest of the 11 awards – for Sojourner Place at Madison, which promises 48 units of affordable rental housing and 24 units of permanent supportive housing.

“Congratulation, sir,” Scott said, shaking hands with the latter’s executive director, Daniel McCarthy, as the two posed for a photo amid applause.

U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D, 7th) was on hand as well.

“I feel particularly good to know that these funds will create a total of 450 housing units in this city for people to live in and to grow in and to survive in,” he said.

“You are doing God’s work,” he told the awardees.

Defending a Slow Rollout

Together with the hand claps and praise was a defensive note, as officials responded to recent criticism about the slow pace of  Baltimore’s use of its pandemic relief windfall from Washington.

As of December, or three years after learning it would receive $641 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, only 28% of the city’s funds had been spent.

Additionally, only a quarter of the total was assigned to a contract or purchase order, leaving fully half of the federal bounty in limbo.

Under federal rules, Baltimore has until the end of the year to “obligate” the $641 million – or lose it.

The Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, for instance, has only spent 7% of the $73 million in ARPA funds committed to the agency.

The lag has fueled harsh words from candidates who are running against Scott in the May primary.

Former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah accuses Scott of taking the $641 million “and essentially flushing it down the toilet to repay donors and developers and pad agency budgets and give millions of dollars to your favorite nonprofits as you gear up for reelection.”

Pointing to ARPA funds directed to a developer and a labor union that donated to Scott’s campaign fund – and questioning the use of federal money to purchase two hotels to provide emergency housing – Vignarajah has called for an independent forensic audit of how the funds are being spent.

“We have allowed favoritism to direct the funds in ways that don’t benefit the people”  – Mayoral Candidate Bob Wallace.

“Corruption, corruption, corruption” said another mayoral hopeful, businessman Bob Wallace, at last week’s candidate’s forum in Roland Park.

“We have allowed favoritism. . . to direct the funds in ways that don’t benefit the people,” Wallace continued, echoing Vignarajah.

Offering a milder critique at the same event was former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, who blamed inexperienced city agency heads for failing to get the federal funds out the door.

“We haven’t had this kind of money before,” she told the audience, arguing the money could have been spent “on new police stations, new fire stations” and arguing she would have done a better job.

Scott and the officials standing with him at the grant award ceremony yesterday delivered a coordinated pushback, reminding the public of the pandemic that spawned the ARPA dollars.

“If you recall, there were [Covid-19] death tolls on our screens every day. . . people were dying,” while others faced food, job and housing insecurity, said Shamiah Kerney, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs, which oversees the fund distribution. “We didn’t know what normal would look like.”

“There is a sense of normalcy that’s returned to us, and so now, again, it is easy to be critical about the decisions that were made years ago,” Kerney added.

“It is easy to be critical about the decisions that were made years ago”  – Shamiah Kerney, Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs.

Kerney heaped praise on the mayor, saying, “I am grateful to Mayor Scott for continuing to stand in his commitment to homeless services and to housing and prioritizing people. People is why ARPA was created.”

Scott took up the same theme, noting, “We were in the throes of the pandemic when we got this money.”

“For all these folks who now are playing Monday morning quarterback, I would challenge them to be put into the position that we all were, governing and leading at a time like this,” he said.

No Set Schedule for Housing

Later in the day his office announced the launch of ARPA Impact Indicators, a website intended “to provide residents with insights” into the neighborhood-level benefits of the ARPA money

“Recognizing that some of ARPA’s impacts will not be immediate,” the project’s partner, the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, will continue to add to data the site, the city’s announcement noted.

Asked yesterday if there was a schedule for when the affordable housing projects would be completed, Scott said that timelines could be provided, but then cautioned that the work would not likely move as fast as recipients would like.

“We know that if were up to them they’d have shovels in the ground and ready right now,” he said. “But they are also like us in city government at the mercy of the new realities of construction and supply.”

“The days where you can just say today and start tomorrow, and all the equipment is there and ready, they’re gone. And they’re never coming back so we have to realign ourselves.”

Grant Recipients

Here is the list of recipients of ARPA grants for projects under the Scott administration’s 2024 Baltimore Housing Accelerator Fund.

The Accelerator Fund provides up to $250,000 per unit for permanent supportive housing and up to $100,000 for traditional affordable housing. It will also pay as much as $500,000 in pre-development costs.

Recipients in 2024 of nearly $30 million of affordable housing project grants using Baltimore's ARPA funding. (Baltimore Mayor's Office.)

Explaining the term “permanent supportive housing” used above, Homeless Services Director Ernestina Simmons said it was housing made available to those who have been homeless for at least a year and who have qualifying disabilities.

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