Weather prompts changes in vacant inspections

Posted at 8:38 PM, Apr 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-14 20:38:45-04

There are nearly 17,000 vacant and uninhabitable structures in the City, according to Baltimore Housing. More than just an eyesore, the crumbling buildings have also become a safety hazard.

Strong winds brought down several vacant buildings in West Baltimore earlier this month, one right across from an elementary school. A man was also killed after a building collapsed on his car.

Vacant buildings are a massive problem in Baltimore and it's one that keeps growing. The extent of the problem is also more noticeable in some neighborhoods, particularly West Baltimore.

“You know it's like a disease, it's carrying over to the next building and it's hard to keep my property up when that one's coming down,” said Bessie Gaylord,

She also called the number of vacant homes shameful.

“I understand it's a hard job for the city but it's also a hard job for us who live in neighborhoods with these torn down houses next door to us,” she said.

Baltimore Housing said it's a result of 50 years of changes in the economy, including a loss in manufacturing jobs. The city has also lost nearly one-third of its population since the 1950s.

There are programs to attract new residents and buyers but the boarded up homes are souring the selling point.

“We want to promote Baltimore but how can we promote it like this?,” Gaylord said.

It's a complex problem that leaders are working to solve, but in the meantime Baltimore Housing is tasked with ensuring the safety of the public by trying to prevent building collapses. Housing inspectors conduct more than 250,000 inspections per year, according to the department. The number of inspections from day-to-day can vary.

“It's hard for me to put a number, we do as many as we can do,” said Ayman Shahid, the superintendent of construction and building inspection for Baltimore Housing.

Condemned properties are inspected every 10 to 30 days. Buildings are also assigned a category level of one or two. When a property is upgraded to category one, Shahid said the building is marked for emergency demolition and could be taken down within hours or several days.

“We're looking for dangerous conditions. The ones with no roofs, end units where the wall side can't stand alone or it has no support,” Shahid said.

If those conditions are not present, they make repairs to ensure the building is safe and then monitor it until it’s eventually demolished.

“There’s really no hold up. Once we make the decision it's coming down, it's coming down,” Shahid said.

But right near Gaylord’s home is half a house that’s remained in that condition for some time. It had no roof or back wall and she was wondering why it hadn’t come down sooner.

“God I can't even remember. I had to laugh to myself when I saw someone going in the front door with a key. Why does he have a key to go in that door when there's nothing on the back?” Gaylord said.

Baltimore Housing said they're making changes. Last week, they conducted an analysis of end of group vacants (EOG) and abandoned properties in the City. Out of 5,000 EOG vacants, 200 were assigned for inspection and flagged to eventually come down. The house Gaylord was referring to was one of the 200 and demolished on Thursday.

“We're improving our protocol of how we deal with these things because we have to take into account severe weather patterns and things like that, so we're working on it and we're trying to be proactive,” said Shahid.

But like a domino effect, the home next to that is now at the end and it's only a matter of time before it needs to come down as well.

“We may take one down but by the end of the day three more may be added to the list,” said Shahid.

Funding is another complication in tackling this issue. According to Baltimore Housing, demolition for a typical two story costs around $13,000, a three-story is around $22,000. The number of demolitions per year also depends on the annual budget. However, Baltimore Housing was recently provided some additional funding.

Next week on ABC2News InFocus, we'll delve into how much they're slated to receive and how that's expected to change things.