BALTIMORE — After a vacant rowhome fire Monday killed three firefighters, there are a lot of questions and concerns surrounding the 16,000 abandoned homes in Baltimore.
The property, 205 South Stricker Street, had been vacant since 2010 and there was a fire there back in 2015, where three firefighters were injured.
The property was just inspected earlier this month and the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) said the inspector found the front and rear were boarded and clean.
Neighbors told WMAR they’ve never seen anyone go in or out, so they weren’t worried about squatters but now they are thinking twice.
"It’s a problem that’s been happening too long. Traditionally I think it’s roughly 17 vacants that catch fire every year in Mount Clare," said community leader Curtis Eaddy. "We’ve been trying to get assistance for so long. Vacant buildings, squatters and a phone call just doesn’t do it and it just hurts."
After a previous fire at the same home in 2015 where three firefighters were hurt, it has brought up the question—why was it still standing?
Vacant since 2010, it has been cited in the past for no registration. DHCD said the home was also offered in a tax sale because of outstanding liens and fines but there was no market for it, so it stayed privately owned and abandoned.
"If the city owns a property, it’s easier to stabilize it, to demolish it, because the city has ownership of it," said Councilman John Bullock. "If it’s privately owned, that makes it more difficult for the city to get access to the property."
"Our overall efforts to combat blight in the city continue to utilize a multi-pronged approach to address nuisance properties and derelict property owners. Our efforts include injunctions, citations, criminal penalties, receivership, and tax sale foreclosures. We constantly work to determine which structures are most at risk," said DHCD in a statement to WMAR.
According to DHCD, they spend $8 million a year to demolish properties and they file an average of 500 receivership cases per year to get properties into the hands of owners who will properly maintain them.
They also conduct over 200,000 inspections annually, driven by 311 complaints from citizens about code violations and vacant property conditions.
Councilman Bullock said it’s important people report these issues but it’s not the only answer.
"It can be effective to some degree but also being more proactive from housing and code enforcement especially when they have been problem properties we’ve had issues with before," Bullock said.
Bullock said another issue is resources: money and time to demolish these homes or hire attorneys to fight to take them over.