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Mayor releases plan to deal with Baltimore’s vacant house blight

vacant rowhouses guilford ave v

Some of the 16,000 vacant houses in Baltimore. These are on Guilford Avenue, not far from the city schools headquarters on North Avenue.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took aim at blight in Baltimore today with a 6-point plan intended to speed up the sale, redevelopment and, in some cases, demolition of vacant properties, including thousands of city-owned parcels.

Speaking today at City Hall, she acknowledged that the problem is “enormous.” Baltimore has 30,000 vacant properties and 16,000 unoccupied buildings. The city owns 10,000 of these vacant parcels (including about 4,000 with empty buildings, according to housing officials.)

“Vacant houses are more than just an eyesore,” Rawlings-Blake said. “They pose a serious public safety and public health threat to our citizens. They depress the value of surrounding homes and they deplete already scarce city resources.”

A major part of her plan involves strategies for streamlining the sale of vacant properties and getting them “into the hands of those both willing and able to renovate and invest,” as Rawlings-Blake put it.

“The simple truth is that urban blight in Baltimore is a problem of too much supply and not enough demand,” she said. “And, we know that a “government-only” solution will not work.”

The Mayor’s office will execute the program along with the office of Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano, who joined her in the news conference to discuss elements of the plan which include:

* Streamlining the process of selling city-owned vacant properties. Some of the mechanisms Rawlings-Blake proposed here were controversial when they came up for a vote today at the city Board of Estimates. A provision that would allow officials to auction off city-owned properties without setting a minimum bid drew criticism from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Comptroller Joan Pratt, but the spending board approved the measures anyway, according to The Baltimore Sun.

* Beefing up code enforcement to push absentee landlords to either reinvest in their properties or sell them. (This effort targets the 5,000 buildings they say are located in “transitional blocks,” areas that are “mostly occupied but challenged by a number of scattered vacant structures.”)

* Using code enforcement attorneys to spur investment in 700 vacant buildings in “emerging markets near areas of strength.” In these areas, the City “will work in partnership with committed and capitalized developers to leverage reinvestment, block by block, without major taxpayer subsidies,” Rawlings-Blake said.

* Creating incentives for homeowners and developers who renovate vacant properties, including an allocation of $500 thousand to a new incentive called the Good Neighbors Program, which provides a $5,000 five-year forgivable loan for 100 City Police Officers, Firefighters, and Teachers who purchase a vacant property in Baltimore.

* In distressed areas, continuing to support large-scale redevelopment projects, such as Uplands, Poppleton, Barclay, she said.

*In severely distressed areas, demolishing, cleaning and “land banking” some properties, possibly finding “creative interim uses including creating new community green space where demand for housing doesn’t yet exist.”

Read the full  press release here: Mayor announces “Vacants to Value” Plan to Reduce Blight

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