BALTIMORE (WMAR) — It’s been two weeks since a fire ripped through a vacant rowhome in South Baltimore, killing three Baltimore City firefighters.
The city housing department expects the property to be turned over to them this week and then they will have a better sense of a demolition schedule.
The fire shed light again on the sprawling problem of vacant homes in Baltimore.
There are at least 15,000 and some advocates believe that number is much higher. The vast majority are privately owned, including the scene of the fatal fire.
While it’s much harder to demolish privately-owner homes, there are groups working to demolition or rehabilitate the city-owned properties.
“This tragedy does show us there’s so much more we need to do but we have made a lot of progress. The most progress that has been made in removing blight ever in the city’s history,” said Carol Gilbert, the division director for neighborhood revitalization for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
Launched six years ago, Project C.O.R.E., or Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise, is a partnership between the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore to remove vacant properties to create green space for revitalization and redevelopment that responds to local needs. In that time, Project C.O.R.E. has removed or stabilized more than 5,000 blighted units, contributing to an 11 percent decline in vacant building notices.
“Vacancies continue to happen so to actually get a decline means you’re getting ahead of the continuing number of vacancies,” said Gilbert. “We’ve really eliminated a lot of the long rows of blight. It’s harder to find these long contiguous sets of 5-10 properties.”
Their progress over the last five years is outlined in a new milestone report released Monday by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. It shows $450 million in new investment to replace the blight, including 15 acres of green space, over 1,000 units of affordable housing and lots of leasible space.
The report also showed a correlation between neighborhoods with the most vacancies in 2016 and where demolitions have happened.
“So we’re really targeting the right areas to relieve the most pressure some blight,” said Gilbert.
This year, they are moving on to large buildings, including four schools that have been decommissioned from Baltimore City.
“The priorities for demo are set by community leaders and associations that meet with the city housing and planning department that results in a list of projects that fit our budget,” said Gilbert.
Gov. Larry Hogan included $21 million for Project C.O.R.E. in next year’s budget which she hopes passes in April so they can continue this work.
The Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development spokesperson said in a statement that there are so many factors that play into demolition with a vacant property.
“With the overwhelming number of properties being privately owned, the only time the city has a right to act right away is if it is an 'emergency demolition'," said the spokesperson for the department.
Otherwise, for problem homes they use code enforcement, private negotiation where they negotiate with an owner for acquisition of the property, property donation where homeowners or relatives of property owners who are deceased donate property to the city for handling, tax lien foreclosure, in rem ax lien foreclosure or receivership.