Ye Ole Light for All is throwing its annual blog awards party tonight. While we sat out the contest this year we do want to take a moment to acknowledge that it’s a good, fun thing and the annual party is always a nice chance to come and talk face to face with a lot of local people who you maybe only know from online in their various capacities. Party starts at 6:30 tonight. Don’t be late because it only lasts a couple hours. Besides, if you are late you might miss out on an epic weatherman freakout or something.
Here at the Baltimore Chop we like to take Mobbies time as an opportunity for a sort of year-in-review. As we look back over previous Mobbies day posts, each one just seems to get a little more depressing and this one isn’t exactly happy. There’s no getting around it: 2015 has been a bad year in Baltimore. We wouldn’t presume to deserve a blogging award this year because we’ve barely even done any blogging. What writing we did do was overwhelmingly negative, and most of it can be found combined into one long super-post on Medium.
Tonight’s party has a Back to the Future theme, which is meant to tie-in with the recent buzz around the date portrayed in Back to the Future 2 rolling around on the calendar. When we think of the theme we can’t help but reflecting on the morbid return of the 1990’s and 300+ murders in the city. As the Sun reported recently, this represents an all-time high in the per capita murder rate. Sheila Dixon is running for mayor. The Red Line is history. Schools are closing down. There’s a giant scandal in public housing. Lawyers can’t convict dangerous gang members. This jail lawsuit is older than we are, and the jail is still terrible. Kendall Fenwick was murdered in cold blood in his own home by drug dealers bringing back memories of the Dawson Family. Dirt Bikes continue to be a menace to public safety. The number of vacant houses is actually on the rise. We could go on and on about Baltimore problems all day without even mentioning Freddie Gray and the rioting.
It seems to the Chop that almost all of our media consumption this year (which is a lot) has been about how terrible life in Baltimore is. Everyone seems to want to have ‘a conversation’ or ‘a dialogue’ about ‘how to start healing’ etc etc. Whether it’s print, radio, TV or digital all this talk about Baltimore’s troubles invariably falls somewhere between the somewhat dissonant to the dismissible-out-of-hand.
But today, on Mobbies day, the holiest day on the blogging calendar we want to focus on a particular hard-luck story which is near and dear to the Chop’s heart.
The New York Times and the Atlantic both have stories out this week about how banks in Baltimore City are much, much more likely to extend mortgage loans to white buyers in white neighborhoods. As the Sun points out in separate articles this is not the case in Baltimore County, and black homeowners locally fared much worse than whites during the explosion of the housing bubble.
Now, we all know that the city won a very large settlement from Wells Fargo over racist lending practices during the subprime craze. Rather than use it for mortgage relief for victimized homeowners or as a bulwark against further racist lending practices, the city wants to use that money to demolish vacants. While that practice itself is debatable, it is not debatable that deconstruction of vacants is a better alternative and that demolition does nothing to help homeowners affected by subprime steering.
And about those ‘further racist lending practices’ we just mentioned- the Times also reports this week that good old-fashioned 1939 redlining is still very much alive and well in the nation’s bank branches. Even M&T Bank, a name very well known here in Charm City recently settled its own racist lending suit.
M&T and Wells Fargo are certainly household names around the Chophouse. As we told you in the Spring, Wells Fargo holds the mortgage (for which we’re overpaying) and our experience trying to refinance through M&T was a months-long headache which ended with them sending a white home inspector into our black neighborhood and undervaluing the house by tens of thousands of dollars. (We also mentioned coming in for extra “random” scrutiny from Allstate which we believe was due to the home’s location.)
Since we last wrote, we’ve had the good fortune to be able to join a credit union, and so decided that we’d like to try once again to refinance our loan, this time with an institution that doesn’t have a long track record of screwing consumers, and especially poor and black ones. So on Tuesday we got all of our documents together. Oh, about 80 pages or so, you know, pay vouchers and credit card accounts and insurance documents and W2’s and all of that fun stuff. And we put on our little shirt and slacks and tried to look real nice, as one does when one goes to ask for a loan.
We get in the car and we go down to the Navy Federal branch in Glen Burnie. It’s our first time here so we stand near the front door and wait for the front desk man to direct us on whom to see and how to begin the process. We’re in line about 30 seconds when we see a guy come through the door in an oversized sweatsuit with the hood up and a cold-weather type ski mask. He stepped right in front of us and the front desk guy even said hello to him, to which he also replied hello as he looked at the floor and moved back towards the tellers.
“Why the hell is he saying hello to this guy like a regular customer?” we thought to ourselves. “He’s clearly about to rob this bank.” In the next instant we thought “Oh fuck! He is going to rob this goddamned bank isn’t he? Yeah, he is when he reaches the tellers in about two seconds. Right now would be a good time to walk out the door because once he pulls a gun out it’ll probably be too late for that. And hey, if we’re wrong we just come back in 20 minutes and do our banking then, right?”
So we stepped out the front door and went to sit in the car. And a couple minutes later here come the police. Lots of police. The guy did try to rob the bank, of course, and he was caught. Now as if we didn’t have enough headaches to deal with trying to finance a house in a black neighborhood in a racist system, we get to be recorded as a witness to a bank robbery as well. Paired with our neighbor attempting a murder and a gang of kids trying to jump us on our bicycle this is the third violent crime we’ve come in contact with in the last two weeks.
In 2015 when you go out of town or meet a visitor to the city they invariably ask “Is Baltimore really as bad as they say it is?”
Our answer now: “It’s worse.”