The City's strategy in demolishing vacants

Posted at 8:44 PM, Apr 21, 2016

Funding has always been a hurdle in addressing Baltimore City's blight problem. Baltimore Housing estimates they would need more than $500 million to fully take care of the city's nearly 17,000 vacant and abandoned buildings. Each year they've had to coordinate their demolitions around what's been in the budget, typically around $10 million, but with Project C.O.R.E., city and state officials are hoping to make a bigger dent faster.

Under Project C.O.R.E., the state will invest $75 million and the City will contribute $18.5 million to demolish more than 3,000 properties over the next four years. While the funding still falls short of the money needed to take care of all the vacant properties, Baltimore Housing Deputy Commissioner Michael Braverman said they will implement strategy to best utilize the available funds.

“And so the real issue becomes, considering the scope and the available dollars, how to most strategically spend those dollars,” said Braverman.

Part of the strategy involves bringing down entire blocks, like they did recently with the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave. in Northeast Baltimore.

When you turn on the side street today, all you see is a field of green with some concrete steps that used to lead to front doors.

“Substance abuse, shootings, violence, murder, arson, the whole nine yards used to happen within this 2700 block of Tivoly,” said Mark Washington, executive director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corporation.

Almost all were vacant homes and a breeding area for crime. Washington, a longtime resident of the neighborhood and the community's advocate, was a driving force in encouraging the City to tear down the block.

"There were about 80 homes on both sides of this block on Tivoly, and our cost was about $5 million," Braverman said.

It took eight years and a great expense, but the whole block demolition is considered a great improvement. It's also the kind of result city and state leaders hope to achieve through Project C.O.R.E.

Baltimore Housing said first and foremost though, they'll assess and take down any building that's deemed an imminent danger to the public.

“We've just conducted an analysis of every end of group vacant building in the city and over the past 10 days, we demolished about 80 of those houses that we felt would present and imminent danger to the public,” Braverman said.

He said they will continue the process of emergency demolitions and then use the remaining funds for strategic whole block demolitions.

“We meet essentially once a year when the budgets are established to determine what are the most strategic blocks that we can do to meet those goals - to leverage investment in our city, to stabilize communities, to create interim and permanent green space,” said Braverman.

They've already selected several locations for the first year. According to this map, it's not where blight is the greatest but it's right around the edges.

“There are communities in Baltimore where we're not seeing the kind of demand that would absorb the vacant houses that are there,” Braverman said. 

Communities like West Baltimore where there's a large concentration of boarded up homes. Instead of taking them all out now, the City plans to target where the homeowners are to better improve their living conditions first.

"There's strong homeownership in Sandtown in different pockets and so, demolition can be targeted to improve the quality of life for our homeowners there and to stabilize investments in their home and their equity by demolishing properties that are immediately adjacent to them," Braverman added.

Washington said that makes the biggest difference especially for those who, for years, have been suffering from the effects of living in a blighted community.

“There's a sense of hope that individuals feel when they see this type of blight elimination effort take place,” Washington said.

Hope, he said, that a lot of residents are still waiting for.

“It should not take an uprising to draw attention to the conditions of Sandtown-Winchester. There are Sandtown-Windchesters throughout all of Baltimore City. The 2700 block of Tivoly was one of them," Washington said.         

However, progress comes with a price tag, and the City is still coming up short.

“We can address what's a danger, and we can strategically address some number of those that are blighted, but considering the dollar figure is north of $500 million and we're not receiving any help from the federal government, unlike some of our sister cities, then it's going to be a problem that's going to be a bit outside of our reach for sometime to come,” said Braverman.

Demolished city blocks will be replaced with temporary or permanent green space depending on the potential for redevelopment.

Phase Two of Project C.O.R.E. includes an additional $600 million that will be funneled through programs to try and revitalize blighted communities.

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