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Council President Mosby Apologizes After Heated Hearing On His Dollar House Bill

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A Baltimore City Council meeting meant to deal with Baltimore's chronic vacant property problems took an unexpected turn Tuesday night when a speaker and a council member started shouting at each other.

City Council President Nick Mosby apologized Wednesday after the hearing on his proposal to revive the Dollar House program.

"Unfortunately, there were the actions of some that was completely disrespectful to the institution of the city council, to this historic building, and to the overwhelming amount of citizens who were here to participate and be civically engaged in their government," he said at the Board of Estimates hearing Wednesday. "And as the leader of the institution, it is my responsibility to ensure that that never takes place again."

Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America or NACA, initially had Mosby's support. But during the hearing, Marks proceeded to accuse Councilwoman Odette Ramos and Mayor Brandon Scott of working on behalf of big developers. Councilwoman Ramos who was in the meeting shot back to defend her record.

Mosby pledged to work with Scott, the Baltimore Police Department and the Department of General Services to prevent future disruptions in the seat of government after Marks led a crowd to the mayor's office Tuesday night and banged on the door, telling supporters the mayor had refused to meet with his organization to talk about the program.

James Bentley, a spokesperson for Scott, said the nonprofit had never requested a meeting with the mayor until Tuesday night.

"You just can't come here, acting really like a child and thinking that you're gonna come here from Boston and demand things," Mayor Scott said Wednesday. "We just can't have folks operating that way."

In a joint statement on Twitter Wednesday, councilmembers Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Odette Ramos, James Torrence, Phylicia Porter and Kristerfer Burnett said they "condemn the dangerous behavior exhibited at last night's City Council Hearing," and the officials called on Mosby not only to apologize to the council but "to all of Baltimore."

The issue of vacant properties got even more attention in January, when three firefighters died after a fire in a vacant rowhome. The Mayor said his administration would immediately find ways to reduce - what was at the time - nearly 15,000 vacant properties.

Last month, Mayor Scott pledged $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to address vacant properties. The investment included funding for capital investments, blight elimination and prevention, and resident protection, but does not steer toward the dollar home program.

Scott's spokesperson said Tuesday night selling homes for a dollar a piece is "pie in the sky" that doesn't fix the real problems.

"It's about taking these homes that are vacant that you know are going to need hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment, putting them into the hands of people that have the ability to do that and doing it with the community," the mayor said.

Despite Tuesday's disruption, Council President Mosby still sees the Dollar Home program as a pathway to homeownership for some of the poorest in Baltimore.

Under the proposal, Baltimore's legacy residents, those who have lived in the city for more than a decade, would be eligible to buy city-owned vacant homes for $1. They would also receive a $50,000 grant from the city for renovations under a repair grant bill, and NACA would provide a low-interest loan to pay the mortgage.

"This is a real program, in a very unconventional way at a very unique time, to empower folks to have pipelines to homeownership," said Council President Mosby.

The bill was voted on last month and ended in a 7-7 tie, with one absent vote. The city council did not vote on it nor did they schedule to vote on it Tuesday night.

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