Baltimore Hosts Vacant Housing Summit

BALTIMORE (AP) — Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told hundreds of people worried about the city’s 16,000 vacant homes that the empty houses pose one of the city’s most pressing challenges.

Rawlings-Blake hosted a summit Thursday to build interest in a six-point strategy for attacking the blight dubbed “Vacants to Value.”

Organizers initially planned for 150 people, but had to move the event to the convention center as the list of attendees grew to nearly 700 people. The summit included sessions on how to buy city-owned property and how the process has been updated in recent years. Attendees also had a chance to discuss what progress will look like and propose their own ideas.

Neighborhoods with vacant houses face a constant battle with a host of problems ranging from rodents, fire and maintenance problems for adjacent homes to drugs and prostitution.

“It fosters an environment where people can do bad things,” said Kelly Little, executive director of Baltimore’s nonprofit Druid Heights Community Development Corporation. “It presents all kinds of issues when you try to bring new people into the community. If they see a vacant house it really sends a message.”

Simply demolishing vacant houses would be too costly and very tricky in a rowhouse-heavy city where there can be a mix of vacant and occupied homes in one block. Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano estimates that demolishing about 10,000 vacant homes could cost $300 million.

Instead, Vacants to Value will attempt to streamline the sale of the more than 4,200 vacant homes owned by the city, boost investment in targeted markets, step up code enforcement and offer incentives for homebuyers and developers, including a new $5,000 forgivable loan program for city police officers, firefighters and teachers who purchase or rehabilitate vacant homes. It also includes tax credit programs that can save homeowners up to 60 percent off their property taxes over five years.

Rolling out this initiative while the housing market recovers may help, said Julie Day, deputy housing commissioner for land resources.

“We are laying the groundwork so when the market does turn we’re in a good position to take advantage of it,” she said.

City leaders, including the mayor, are taking a realistic approach, acknowledging that much of the vacant housing could become gardens or community centers instead of homes, and focusing money on areas where there is some market demand instead of spreading it around to all areas of the city. Part of that is accepting that there are different markets in the city, said Michael Braverman, deputy commissioner for permits and code enforcement.

“A broad-brush approach is not what is going to be the best solution for Baltimore,” he said.

With a strong downtown surrounded by rebounding neighborhoods, Baltimore’s vacant housing situation is not as bad as it is in old industrial cities like Detroit, according to Allan Mallach, a senior fellow with the Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit focused on the reuse of vacant housing.

“There’s a lot of energy and opportunity here,” Mallach said. “Baltimore has done a lot of creative things in the last decade. It hasn’t been in denial.”

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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

  • pigeon

    At least 50% (undoubtedly that number is much higher) are not fit for rats let alone humans. Cost to repair and bring to code is out of the question. What to do with them. Demo, then build new ones that PEOPLE CAN AFFORD and will be able to make repairs, update, etc. as time goes on. Of course, you MUST include in the “afford” range the outrageous amount of property taxes they will need to pay – that should be included in their monthly payments. Another remedy is to get rid of slum lords!

    • Annette Oliver

      yes the slum lords must go! but pigeon i want a fixer-upper But the overall to help us working class out would be give us more info on how to do what we need to do. Some of us are new to the club and need instructions… even new parents get help from the world but not when you are buying a new home!

  • MOLEman

    Too many people with no skills & jobs to afford these homes & their upkeep. Baltimore is a perfect example of not enough wealthy & I mean wealthy to afford a home , it’s taxes & maintenance today. Why we have slumlords is because of the massive infusion of tax dollars poured into section eight vouchers that in turn is handed over to slum lords thus making them & the government business partners & leaving the poor hard working person holding the tab. March people, take to the streets & kick these liberals to the curb.

  • joe

    just another way to try and make more money for the state to waste on painting our city purple instead of giving it to our police and fir fighters

  • joe

    another thing if tear them down and build again they will just tear them up and it will look just like it did before in a few years

  • Annette Oliver

    I hope that when the vacant houses are no longer vacant that they can hire more officers to police the streets… I was at a friend’s house with my new car and teenagers were playing nearby, I come out a couple of hours later to find my car was damaged… what in the world? I have seen plenty of houses that I would like to invest in but at what price will I pay? In the same community she told me that after a period of time the rats the RATS chewed the wires under her car! What will be doing about that? Help me help you… did I call the police? No, I asked did anyone see what happed they all said no… we all know that they were roughhousing a fell into my car, and I gotta pay to get the dent removed! Again, help me to help you!

  • Annette Oliver

    With the buildings in the city most of them the alleys are small, can not pull your car up… so when I get an electric car I can not charge it. How will you work the electric car charging?
    The photos on the housing page was great… can you the next time add the side street, alleys, backyards? We have to go visit each potential property to check on the alley size.

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