Wooden panels cover windows and door frames, roofing shingles
dangle, and the word “vacant” is spray-painted in red across the tan
exterior of the home.
Although this house is located in the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Park Heights, the blight of abandoned buildings is widespread throughout the city.
More than 46,000 vacant buildings in Baltimore, according to the 2010 U. S. Census report, an increase of 10.1 percent in the last 10 years, leaving many residents wondering about the rise in the number of abandoned properties across the city and whether city leaders may be the ones abandoning the homes, not the individuals that once resided in them.
However, Baltimore City housing officials have other reasons for the high number of abandoned properties.
“Seventy-five percent of vacant properties aren’t owned by the city,” said Cheron Porter, director of communications for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC). “For example, if someone dies, it takes a while for the city to locate these homes and get them on the market.”
The HBAC has a plan for improving these properties. The city’s long-term goal to demolish and redevelop 3,000 housing units, including 1,300 low-income rental units, by 2019 seems quite attainable. What the city is going to do about the remaining 43,000 abandoned properties is unclear, officials said.
One option is the city’s Vacants to Value Homebuyer Program, an initiative by Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in which the city acquires vacant houses that are not in livable condition and sells them to owners willing to rehabilitate them within 12 months.
“The initiative has been working,” says Urana Sanders, a spokesperson for the program, “But we have to get more people on board. The more people who know about it, the better it will work.”
The program’s effectiveness will be determined in the years to follow, officials said. But to residents anything is better that watching the number of vacant properties increase.
“I have lived here for 25 years, and it’s like the problem is only getting worse,” says Margaret Jackson, a resident in the Greenmount community. “People can’t afford their houses, get put out, and the city just leaves the homes to rot. It’s a shame, really.”