BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The dangers posed by vacant houses have haunted Baltimore for decades.

“The neglect really says: Nobody cares. Why should I care?” Donte Hickman said.

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Hickman is the pastor for the Southern Baptist Church and is steering the East Baltimore Revitalization Project.

Blocks of vacant houses stretch for miles near his church and in other parts of Baltimore.

 

“It’s a drain on the neighborhoods. It’s a drain on the city,” Steven Preston, the construction and design manager for the Parks & People Foundation said. 

City officials say that nearly 15,000 homes sit empty and pose a major fire threat to nearby neighbors.

And residents have seen that danger multiple times. In January, a fire at a vacant house in South Baltimore killed firefighters Lt. Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler, and Kenny Lacayo.

City leaders say they don’t want to see another tragedy.

“We also have people who are squatting in these homes so that’s not only an immense danger to homeowners nearby but also immense danger to people who are passing by,” City Councilmember James Torrence said.

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But the hope is to change that pattern.

On Tuesday night several organizations and developers came together to discuss ways to revitalize and transform city neighborhoods.

“Ultimately, these neighborhoods are valuable and it really takes innovation and people and care and love for diversity,” Ernst Valery, the founder of SAA EVI Development Company, said.

Just last month, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a $100 million plan to fund the rehabilitation of vacant properties.

His actions came after the trio of firefighters was killed.

“Under my administration, we are going to build more equitable communities across Baltimore and reduce vacancy,” Scott said.

Some organizations have already restored vacant houses and transformed vacant lots into parks but the work is far from over. 

“The more we invest in these neighborhoods and these spaces, we can start to change the tides of what’s going on,” Preston said.

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City officials have introduced several bills aimed at solving the problem posed by Baltimore’s vacant houses. These bills increase fines for vacant property owners and require them to pay for emergency services.

Kelsey Kushner