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Baltimore Wants Demolition To Be Done By Ex-Cons

Tagged under: News Baltimore Maryland Jobs Politics
By Expeal on January 23, 2016.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found this image of the city of Baltimore's skyline.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has already come out in support of efforts to expand Expeal in the state, pointing out the helping ex-cons expunge their record is a key step to ensuring people can get good jobs and reducing recidivism. Now the Baltimore City Council wants to put the Governor's money where his mouth is.

Gov. Hogan has set aside $74 million in Maryland's budget, $18 million of which is supposed to go towards demolishing entire city blacks that have gone vacant. Though the pledged amount is not yet in the budget itself, the delegation of legislatures that represent Baltimore City in the General Assembly have already begun making moves to dictate how that money would be spent.

Chairman Curt Anderson explained their position as follows: "If people from Baltimore aren't going to get these jobs, then what's the point? There are local companies who can not only do demolition, but can do deconstruction. Some of them are in Baltimore, and they employ people who could not get jobs anywhere else because of criminal records."

There are two major ideas. The first is to use the funds to work with a non-profit organization that will employ ex-cons in the work required to take the buildings down. The second idea is to use the funds to help ex-cons start demolition companies that will then be involved in the bidding process.

These ideas fall right in line with Gov. Hogan's and the Maryland state legislature's push towards making it easier for ex-cons to get jobs. In fact, Hogan has created a commission to eliminate what he calls the "collateral consequences" of incarceration – the economic death sentence that comes with a criminal records – which makes it hard for people with records to get professional licenses.

However, much like the plan for the $18 million, there isn't a set course of action just yet. Democrats, who are in charge of the state legislature, already overrode Hogan's bill that would allow felons to vote immediately after leaving prison. What they will do for ex-cons in Baltimore is currently up in the air, but at least they allowed Details, a non-profit deconstruction company, to pitch itself.

Details has already taken down 150 vacant homes in the city, selling the salvageable material to cover the cost of taking a building down by hand. Representatives from Details, a division of the workforce development non-profit Humanim, proudly proclaim that they can take on as many as 300 projects at one time, employing workers that are recruited from Baltimore's city re-entry programs.

In fact, 70% of Details' 135 employees are ex-cons. The employees, most of whom usually live close to the deconstruction site, need no experience, as they receive on-the-job training, making $11.46 per hour, plus benefits like sick leave, health care, and counseling, as a starting salary. Jobs are what help reduce recidivism, and Details is doing its best to create an infrastructure that will provide good quality jobs to Baltimore's ex-con community.

Jeff Carroll, the director of Details, states that "A lot of what it takes to be successful in the workplace is the ability to show up on time, work hard all day, and work as a team. That's what they learn on the job, and those are important skills." As a further boost to the idea of using some of those funds towards helping ex-cons start their own demolition companies, Details itself started in 2014 during Baltimore's initial demolition pilot project. The city award the company a $690,290 contract to take down 50 of the more than 16,000 vacant.

This time around, Chairman Anderson, who invited the company to speak to the delegation, went so far as to ask Details how to write up a bid that would make sure it ended up as one of the final bids. Mary Washington, a Baltimore delegate, has gone so far as to suggest that a bidder must commit to spending a certain portion of the final contract on something environmentally sustainable, which would benefit Details. The difference between demolition and deconstruction is that demolition results in everything being sent to a landfill while deconstruction results in the materials being reused, leaving a smaller footprint on the environment.

Even outside of Baltimore, the push to get some of these funds into the hands of companies and organizations that will help give ex-cons good jobs or start their own businesses is gaining support. State Senator Catherine E. Pugh, a mayoral candidate, is one of those, claiming that these funds should be spent in conjunction with the pilot project started last year that creates an incubator for businesses launched by former offenders last. "We want this money to be inclusive," she said.

The issue of the money, however, weighs heavily on the minds of some lawmakers. As we mentioned, the promise didn't equate to a line-item in the budget. Hogan's administration claims it will come down in a supplemental document that will be filed in the future, but those concerned lawmakers are worried that it will turn into a political football, used as a bargaining chip by the Republican governor against the legislature full of Democrats.

State Senator Bill Ferguson was one of those who holds that opinion. "I am concerned about the jobs. The bigger conversation is, first and foremost, there has to be money in the budget." Pugh, who supported Hogan when he first announced the demolition program, was more confident, stating that the promise was put in writing, and therefore, couldn't be used as a negotiating tool. She based that on the fact that "We had this big splash in Baltimore and then the money isn't in the budget? I can't see how the governor would go back on a commitment that he made."

Matthew Clark, spokesman for Hogan, backed up Pugh's position, saying that the money was already in the budget and that the Governor is a man of his word. Clark made it clear that the Maryland Stadium Authority, which has run a $1 billion project aimed at rebuilding the city's school while supervising construction of Baltimore's professional sports stadiums, will be in charge of award those demolition contracts. Because of that decision, Clark points out that the decision is in the hands of the Stadium Authority and not the Governor. "They are the perfect agency to handle demolition," he said. "The governor expects they will bring the same level of professionalism and accountability to this project as they would to any other."

Make sure the government hears your opinion. First, make sure you are registered to vote. Then, contact the Mayor, the City Council, your State Legislator, and the Governor. Don't forget to let your federal representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate know what is going on back home.

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