Maryland Bar Journal Volume 5 Issue 3: “Property Tax Collection in Baltimore: Fostering Wealth Disparity” By Margaret Henn, and Allison Harris

In an article recently published by the Maryland Bar Journal, MVLS’ Deputy Director, Margaret Henn, Esq., and PBRC’S Director of Home Preservation, Allison Harris, Esq., team-up to breakdown the notoriously confusing tax sale system in Baltimore City. Learn the effect of the Baltimore City’s predatory tax sale system on black and brown communities.

MVLS Featured in the Baltimore Banner, “Time to bridge home valuation biases affecting Black homeowners”

Did you know, despite numerous legal obstacles and the longstanding history of racism, many families of color still managed to purchase homes, creating the largest source of wealth for their families? Says, MVLS Senior Consumer Attorney, Aja’ Mallory. However, homeownership has its challenges, which often intensify when determining how the government and commercial housing industry value Black-owned homes. These homeowners often face inflated property tax assessments and the undervaluing of their homes when it’s time to sell or refinance.

Baltimore City Residents Pay Higher Water, Sewer Bills Than County Residents | Food & Water Watch

It may come as a surprise to some, and to others an expectation as Baltimore City residents continue to deal with the ups and downs of water related bills. Housing and Consumer staff attorney, Courtland Merkel was quoted in the latest by Food and Water Watch. ““Baltimoreans have always bore the brunt of funding the water system of the region, the Task Force’s Consultants again shows what residents have always known”. Read the full excerpt using the button below.

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Hires New Staff Attorneys to Help Unlock Generational Wealth and Tackle Complex Title Issues in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a statewide nonprofit offering full legal representation to low-income Marylanders, today announced that Steven Kappen, Esq., and Steven Messmer, Esq., have been hired as the organization’s new tangled title staff attorneys. 

MVLS is also the recipient of this year’s Thome Aging Well Program funding from Enterprise Community Partners. MVLS will use funds in the amount of $284,879 to provide legal and estate planning assistance to nearly 400 low-income senior citizens – primarily in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore – to help preserve and pass on wealth in many of their historically disinvested neighborhoods.

“Homeownership is one of the most important tools for generating wealth, especially in Maryland’s Black communities,” said MVLS Deputy Director Margaret Henn. “So, we’re excited to welcome Steven Kappen and Steven Messmer to oversee our My Home, My Deed, My Legacy program and help families in need preserve their transfer of intergenerational wealth. Their work will be particularly vital to many Black farmers on the Eastern Shore who have struggled to hold on to property that’s been in their family for generations.”

Kappen recently served as an administrative assistant for the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water and now will work primarily in Baltimore City to address tangled title issues. “I am excited to provide critical services to people who absolutely need it,” he said. “I am eager to join MVLS and be part of a team that has so many energized, committed professionals. And I look forward to helping dismantle barriers to justice.”

Messmer, who was a law clerk for Maryland REALTORS and also clerked for Frost Law, will help expand MVLS’ tangled title program to the Eastern Shore and also provide services in Baltimore. “I am thrilled to join MVLS because it is a nonprofit legal services provider dedicated to making a tangible difference in the lives of low-income individuals,” said Messmer. “The opportunity to work on heirs’ property or tangled title cases is particularly exciting as it addresses a critical issue where homes are left in legal limbo, preventing people from fully utilizing their own property and receiving their rightful inheritance.”

MVLS often assists people with tangled title issues connected to housing, foreclosure and the lack of state program accessibility due to their name not being on the deed to their home. Tangled titles exacerbate issues such as tax sale, lack of estate planning and administration, and ground rent. These civil legal issues are incredibly difficult to face without full legal representation. To assist in this effort, MVLS staff attorneys and volunteers host a bi-monthly My Home, My Deed, My Legacy clinic.

MVLS also partners with several organizations and individuals who support housing stabilization, including the Abell Foundation, Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community DevelopmentMaryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland Legal Services Corporation, PNC Foundation, Truist Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation. For a full list of supporters, visit mvlslaw.org/annual-report

Kappen is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law and a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma. He can be reached at 443-451-4092 or skappen@mvlslaw.org.

Messmer graduated magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore School of Law and was a Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society scholar. He can be reached at 443-451-4067 or smessmer@mvlslaw.org.  

To learn more about MVLS staff, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning, and criminal record relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information about MVLS, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.

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Media Contacts:
Sandy Arnette
Arnette Media
phone: 410-274-5975
email: sandy@arnettemedia.com

Chandler Walters
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)
phone: 443-451-4095
email: cwalters@mvlslaw.org

MVLS Hires Courtland Merkel, Esq., as its New Staff Attorney 

BALTIMORE (July 6, 2023) – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono legal services to low-income Marylanders, today announced that Courtland Merkel, Esq., has been hired as the organization’s new housing and consumer staff attorney. 

Merkel, who most recently served as a Circuit Court law clerk for The Honorable Lynne Stewart Mays, will work with MVLS’ housing and consumer stabilization team. He also will support MVLS volunteers, work with community partners, staff a weekly consumer protection clinic and advocate on behalf of MVLS clients.

“MVLS is pleased to welcome Courtland Merkel, as our new housing and consumer staff attorney,” said MVLS Deputy Director Margaret Henn. “Courtland’s background in water bill advocacy and his legal education position him to be a strong addition to the team, where he will represent clients in debt collection lawsuits, defend homeowners against foreclosure and lead MVLS’ water related advocacy work.”

Many people seek help from MVLS with housing and consumer matters such as tax sale, foreclosure, ground rent, bankruptcy, debt collections and contract disputes. These civil legal issues are incredibly difficult to face without full legal representation. To assist in this effort, MVLS staff attorneys and volunteers host a Consumer Protection Clinic each week at the Baltimore City District Court to help those being sued for debt collection.

“I am excited to join MVLS because of its dedication to providing legal assistance to Marylanders who would normally not have the opportunity to afford legal help,” said Merkel. “I look forward to working with the Baltimore community at our weekly consumer clinics while also helping to improve the city’s water bill regulation.”

Prior to joining MVLS, Merkel graduated magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2020 and was a part of both the Fannie Angelos Program for Academic Excellence and the Royal Shannon House Honor Society. Merkel can be reached at 443-451-4064 or cmerkel@mvlslaw.org.

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service 

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning and criminal record relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information, visit mvlslaw.org. 

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Media Contacts: 
Chandler Walters                                                   Sandy Arnette, APR 
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service                Arnette Media Strategies, LLC 
443-451-4095                                                         410-274-5975 
cwalters@mvlslaw.org                                          sandy@arnettemedia.com