Press Releases

August 10, 2018

Contact: Greg Sawtell, Leadership Organizer 513.638.7107 and Destiny Watford, Leadership Organizer 443.948.8699

City Council, Mayor and Housing Coalition Reach Historic Agreement on Funding for Development without Displacement

Baltimore City Council leaders, including President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Housing Committee Chairman John Bullock, and Mayor Catherine Pugh have reached an historic agreement with the Baltimore Housing Roundtable and Housing for All Coalition to drastically increase the city’s funding of affordable housing.

Under the agreement, the City will allocate, within the next five years, at least $20 million annually to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Trust Fund will be funded through a combination of legislation from the City Council, general obligation bonds, and other revenue sources.

Key provisions in the agreement include: 

  1. City Council President Young and Chairman Bullock will support amendments to Council Bill 18-0221 that will establish a 0.6% excise tax on the transfer of real property valued at or above $1,000,000 and a 0.15% excise tax on the recordation of instruments concerning real property on transactions valued at or above $1,000,000 (“Excise tax”). Mayor Pugh will support this revised bill. Revenues from this legislation are projected to average $13 million annually to the Trust Fund. If the legislation generates more than $16 million in a given year, additional revenue will be split with half to the Trust Fund and half to the General Fund.

  2. Mayor Pugh will allocate, at a minimum, additional funds to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund either through the annual Ordinance of Estimates or other legislation (City or State) on the following schedule:

  1. FY 2020: $2 million

  2. FY 2021: $3.5 million

  3. FY 2022: $5 million

  4. FY 2023 and subsequent years: $7 million

This agreement will be memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding and a press conference and celebration that will be held in the next 30 days.

“This agreement is a sign of structural change for Baltimore residents who long-fought for permanently affordable housing and development without displacement.  We are finally seeing the seeds of that vision come into fruition,” remarked Destiny Watford, a United Workers Leadership Organizer and board member of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, “We are excited to partner with Mayor Pugh, Council President Young and City Agencies to realize this new chapter in Baltimore’s bright future”, remarked Ms. Watford.   

“This historic commitment further emphasizes our effort to create a new era of neighborhood investment.  Affordable housing, sustainable communities, and successful development are central to our work to move Baltimore forward.” Mayor Pugh said. “This agreement proves again that the solutions to complex challenges are within our grasp and we can face these challenges with equitable and inclusive solutions that meet current needs and work against displacement of long-time residents.”

“I am proud of this historic agreement that places Baltimore on a path toward addressing the need for affordable housing in a meaningful and concrete way,” Council President Young said. “I was proud to lead this effort and I look forward to establishing an affordable housing program that will improve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.”  

“As the sponsor of this bill, it is encouraging to see the communication and compromise between housing advocates and the Mayor’s Office.” Councilman John Bullock said. “We are excited about moving it forward with the support of the City Council President and a significant majority of the City Council. Given that Baltimore voters overwhelming approved the ballot initiative two years ago, now is the time to provide sustainable resources for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”  

Housing for All, a coalition that includes the United Workers, the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, the Community Development Network and other equity advocacy organizations, spearheaded the 2016 ballot initiative charter amendment that collected over 18,000 petition signatures and created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with over 80% voter approval. Odette Ramos of Housing for All and the Community Development Network noted: “We conducted significant research on various funding sources since that time and have been working closely with the Council President and Mayor’s Office to get to $20 million. We're grateful to the Council President, the Mayor, and the City Council for moving this forward, and to the voters for their continued pressure to make this happen. This was a team effort with a diverse, active coalition. Pending approval from the City Council, this will be a significant milestone in realizing our goal that all people have access to decent, affordable housing. "  

This agreement also helps fulfill the Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s 20/20 Campaign that called in part for $20 million in annual public investment for deeply affordable housing. The Trust fund mandates that revenue be directed to help those with incomes at or below 50% Area Median Income (AMI) (about $46,000 for a family of 4) with half reserved for families earning below 30% of the AMI ($27,000 for a family of 4). The poverty earnings for a family of four in Baltimore is $23,850 and approximately 23% of Baltimoreans live at or below the poverty line.(Source Maryland Alliance for the Poor “Maryland Poverty Profiles 2016”)  

Over 10 years at $20 million/year, the Fund the Trust Act could:

  • Create or preserve over 4,100 permanently affordable rental and homeowner opportunities

  • Provide fair housing, eviction prevention and housing counseling services to over 12,000 families

  • Rehabilitate 1,600 vacant properties

  • Support 6 community land trusts

  • Employ 8,500 construction workers 

A hearing on the amended Fund the Trust Act (CB 18-0221) is scheduled for September 27 with the expectation that legislation will be approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor to become effective January 1, 2019.



Goldman Environmental Prize Honors Baltimore Youth Leader

Award goes to activists from Baltimore (USA), Tanzania, Cambodia, Slovakia, Peru, Puerto Rico

SAN FRANCISCO, April 18, 2016 — The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the six recipients of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award for grassroots environmental activists. Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Prize recognizes fearless grassroots activists for significant achievements in protecting the environment and their communities. Baltimore youth leader, Destiny Watford, is one of the six global winners, for her work to spearhead efforts to stop the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator from being built less than a mile from her public high school in Curtis Bay.

The winners will be awarded the Prize at an invitation-only ceremony today at 5:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online at A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. will follow on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Watford began organizing four years ago as part of Free Your Voice, a human rights committee of United Workers. At the time she was a high school student at Benjamin Franklin High School less than a mile from the incinerator site. Last year she helped to persuade nearly two dozen municipalities and school boards including Baltimore City Public Schools to end their support for the incinerator. Most recently Watford and other students and community leaders won a major victory when the Maryland Department of Environment terminated the permit for the project after months of public pressure by residents.

“The world is watching Baltimore and the injustice that we face. After the tragic death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed, serious questions about structural racism and  economic inequality, are rightfully being asked. My community has responded to this deep inquiry by fighting to stop the incinerator and demand community control of land. I am proud to serve as a representative of Free Your Voice, my city, and state as we continue to build a movement to change our city and nation towards environmental justice, truly green living-wage jobs, and affordable housing, to ensure that our basic human rights to live in a healthy, sustainable community are met.”

Call to Action

United Workers and its student-led human rights committee in far South Baltimore, Free Your Voice, are calling upon the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland state government to put an end to public subsidies for trash burning incinerators.

Building on the recent MDE decision to terminate the incinerator permit, United Workers is calling on the FMC Corp’s president Pierre R Brondeau to release the 90 acres of land currently being held by the trash burning incinerator company. This will make way for community driven development initiatives including a community owned solar farm.

# # #

Destiny Watford, Baltimore


In a community whose environmental rights had long been sidelined to make room for heavy industry, Destiny Watford inspired residents of a Baltimore neighborhood to defeat plans to build the nation’s largest incinerator less than a mile away from her high school.

The folly of burning trash for clean energy

Curtis Bay is a highly industrialized community in south Baltimore with a history of displacing people to make room for oil refineries, chemical plants, sewage treatment plants, and other facilities that emit pollution. Those left to live within breathing distance of industry have long suffered from respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer. In fact, a 2013 study on emissions-related mortality rates found Baltimore to be the deadliest city, with 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely to die each year from long-term exposure to air pollution.

Despite this, in 2010, the state approved plans for the nation’s largest trash incinerator to be built in Curtis Bay with promises to bring “clean” energy to the state. In reality, the developer’s proposal would have the plant burning 4,000 tons of trash—brought in from outside the city—every day. Environmental studies project that burning this much trash would release more mercury than the dirtiest coal-powered plants—less than a mile away from two public schools.

From shy teenager to determined activist

Destiny Watford grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood in Curtis Bay, visiting her grandmother, going to school, and hanging out with her friends at the local public library. During her high school senior year, Watford attended a play called “Enemy of the People.” Set in a small community that was being poisoned by a polluted hot spring—a major tourist attraction for the town—the play raised questions about government’s role and moral responsibilities when people’s health and lives are at risk. The play struck a chord with the shy young teenager, and after discussing it with a school advisor, she co-founded Free Your Voice, a student organization dedicated to community rights and social justice.

With plans for the trash incinerator moving ahead, Watford and Free Your Voice (FYV) decided to take on the campaign to protect their community from the plant’s pollution and create a pathway to a truly clean energy future for the state.

In pursuit of truly clean energy

Watford and fellow students hit the streets, canvassing neighborhoods, organizing protests, and circulating petitions. In their efforts, they encountered a community that had become used to being considered a dumping ground for the rest of the state. Residents shared stories about Curtis Bay’s long history of heavy industry, pollution, and displacement. Informed by these conversations, Watford and FYV took a deeper look at the community’s downtrodden past, and came out determined to bring positive alternatives—thriving communities and green jobs—within reach.

A huge breakthrough moment came when Watford and Free Your Voice students discovered that Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS), along with other city government agencies and local nonprofits, had signed an agreement to purchase energy from the incinerator. In May 2014, Watford and her fellow students attended a school board meeting to urge them to divest from the project. Destiny gave a compelling presentation, students showcased art and music performances, and parents joined in with testimonies of support. They brought board members to tour Curtis Bay and the proposed incinerator site.

In February 2015, in response to concerns from students and their families, the BCPS board voted to terminate its contract with Energy Answers, the incinerator’s developer. By the fall of that year, all 22 customers canceled their contracts, leaving the incinerator with no market for its product. The victory marked a moment of rebirth for Curtis Bay residents who finally felt that their voices were heard and that their health and lives mattered.

Watford and FYV turned their attention to put intense public pressure on government agencies to pull the project’s permits. In March 2016, the Maryland Department of the Environment declared the incinerator’s permit invalid. The community is now pushing to reclaim the site for truly clean energy alternatives such as a community solar farm and a recycling center. Watford, currently a college student at Towson, continues to organize with Free Your Voice students and other activists to bring that vision to life.


This year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners are:

Edward Loure led a grassroots organization that pioneered an approach that gives land titles to indigenous communities—instead of individuals—in northern Tanzania, ensuring the environmental stewardship of more than 200,000 acres of land for future generations.

LENG OUCH, Cambodia
In one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, Leng Ouch went undercover to document illegal logging in Cambodia and exposed the corruption robbing rural communities of their land, causing the government to cancel large land concessions.

A public interest lawyer and mother of two, Zuzana Caputova spearheaded a successful campaign that shut down a toxic waste dump that was poisoning the land, air and water in her community, setting a precedent for public participation in post-communist Slovakia.

Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera helped lead a successful campaign to establish a nature reserve in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor—an important nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle—and protect the island’s natural heritage from harmful development.

In a community whose environmental rights had long been sidelined to make room for heavy industry, Destiny Watford inspired residents of a Baltimore neighborhood to defeat plans to build the nation’s largest incinerator less than a mile away from her high school.

A subsistence farmer in Peru’s northern highlands, Máxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a plot of land sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine.

About the Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.

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