The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Baltimore Tenants Protest Lack of Heat

Jan 3, 2022

Tenants at the Queen Esther Apartments in Baltimore’s east side, formerly called Lanvale Towers and Canal Courts, protested outside the complex on December 14. They had rallied outside City Hall the week before. A number of units had no working heat for over a week. Since last February, a tenants’ group has been raising problems with black mold, holes in walls and ceilings, rodents, cockroaches, bedbugs, leaks, and flooding—active code violations dating to 2018. These atrocious maintenance problems are happening in buildings that have made a succession of investors millions of dollars from public money and real estate deals.

These 321 apartments in the working class Oliver neighborhood were built in the 1970s, as part of a program where the city bought land and sold it to developers who pledged to rent to people with public housing vouchers. The federal government was pivoting away from having cities own public housing projects, and it was setting up various programs to funnel HUD rent money to private landlords and developers instead. Lanvale Towers and Canal Courts was one of those early privately-owned housing projects.

The rents—now as high as $2,000 a month for a four-bedroom unit—are paid mostly by federal housing money passed through the city’s housing department to the private landlord. That’s millions of dollars each year. Then in 2005 the long-time owner sold the complex for 10.9 million dollars. The new owner sold it in 2018 for 14 million dollars, which is three million dollars more. The next new owner sold it last August for over 21 million dollars—which is seven million dollars more! Of course, each new buyer takes out a bigger loan to pay the bigger price, so the lenders are cashing in more and more, too. All these capitalists are using taxpayers’ money to make more money for themselves, without even paying for maintenance.

Making millions while poor, elderly, and disabled people freeze in winter—capitalism’s answer to the housing problem.