In August 2020, as the city’s annual tax sale loomed, putting thousands of Baltimoreans at risk of losing their homes over what are frequently minor debts, representatives from Parity Homes, Fight Blight BMore, and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Services began knocking on doors in West Baltimore. Their efforts to inform residents whose properties were at risk about available resources to preserve their homes evolved into the Stop Oppressive Seizures (SOS) Fund, which takes a multi-faceted approach to protecting homeownership and preserving residents’ ability to stay in their homes. Ninety percent of SOS clients have an income that falls below 80% of the area median, and 81% identify as Black or African American.
With support from the Abell Foundation, the SOS Fund added two full-time staff members – a program manager and a client coordinator – who developed a customer relationship management system to track client interactions and leverage data for ongoing advocacy. With this infrastructure in place, the SOS Fund joined housing advocates and other mission-aligned organizations to remove 2,900 local homeowners from the 2022 tax sale. SOS Fund uses what it learns from engagement with residents to raise awareness about strategies that can reduce neighborhood vulnerability to displacement. By participating in the city’s tax sale reform committee, SOS Fund advocates for changes to the tax collection process and provides recommendations to improve existing programs that target housing disparities.
In 2022, SOS Fund worked with 81 new clients – referred by legal service providers and nonprofit housing services – and made 15 payments totaling over $20,000 to residents from its “tax sale bailout fund.” In addition to leveraging its own funds, the SOS Fund connected 42 residents to housing counselors across the city to help them apply to the Homeowner’s Assistance Fund for back property taxes, water bills, and home repair.
This work positioned the SOS Fund to successfully compete for and secure a three-year, $700,000 grant through the American Rescue Plan Act that will help it significantly expand its efforts to help struggling homeowners in West Baltimore and beyond.
Photos courtesy of SOS Fund.