Tagged: Vacants to Value

House Collapse in West Baltimore

According to Oscar Jiminez from WBAL, a vacant house partially collapsed in the 1900 block of Edmondson Avenue this morning injuring two people and also sent debris into the sidewalk and onto the road. Thankfully nobody was killed, unlike this incident in March.

The house, 1925 Edmondson Avenue, was owned by the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, and is part of the Vacants to Value program, touted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as an “innovative” program that was supposed to “to get Baltimore’s vacant and abandoned properties cleaned up and redeveloped more quickly, more efficiently, and more economically”.

1923 Edmondson Avenue, on the right. Note the absence of a roof.
1921 and 1923 Edmondson Avenue. Note the absence of a roof on 1923. Both homes are City-owned. (Image from Google Street View)

While V2V may have seemed like a good idea, we maintain the program is not operating as intended, as many of the purchasers of V2V homes are speculators. In fact, one of the largest purchasers of V2V homes is someone we’ve written about several times — an attorney who was disbarred (and subsequently reinstated) for bid-rigging at Baltimore’s municipal auctions, both under his own name and his LLC, “Land Research Associates”.


A Duo of Blight: 3210 and 3208 Elgin Avenue

Property Address: 3210 and 3208 Elgin Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21216

Property Owner (3210): Dexter and Trevor O’Neil, 12005 Marleigh Drive, Bowie, MD 20720

Property Owner (3208): Mayor and City Council, 417 E Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

City Council District and Contact:  District 7, Nick Mosby

State Senator:  Lisa Gladden

State Delegates:  Jill Carter, Nathaniel Oaks, Samuel Rosenberg

These two homes illustrate a common dilemma with Vacants to Value properties. Because so many homes in Baltimore are connected, either as rowhomes or duplexes (as the properties below), if the city is able to obtain one property (3208), it’s difficult to sell when the adjoining property is a blighted mess, as 3210 is. There are no current permits available for 3210, the last one expired in October of 2015.

3210 and 3208 Elgin Avenue
3210 and 3208 Elgin Avenue

City of Chicago Posts Data on Problem Property Owners. Hey, So Do We!

Fantastic news, if you’re a tenant in Chicago — you now have the ability to see where the problem owners are, so you can avoid them. It’s like having your own Slumlordwatch, only this is sanctioned and recognized by the city.

What’s really interesting about Chicago’s ordinance is that it somewhat echoes one of the rules Vacants to Value started with — owners who were not in compliance with existing properties would be unable to purchase more, through the city, until their other properties were brought to code. From Chicago’s website:

Building owners who appear on the list will not be able to obtain business licenses, receive zoning changes, acquire city land or receive financial assistance like Tax Increment Financing (TIF), or obtain building permits not related to addressing their violations.

Unfortunately, Baltimore has all but disregarded its own rules, allowing people who are not in compliance to purchase more homes through their V2V auctions. For example, John Reiff. He’s been able to purchase 10 homes under his own name, and four under his shell company “Land Research Associates” since 2010. He also purchases homes at city tax sales, despite being disbarred for bid-rigging at other municipal auctions, and the deeds aren’t being recorded, shielding him and others who do the same from accountability. A sampling of Reiff’s tax sale purchases:

  • 1642 Lochwood Road, right of redemption foreclosed in 2012, yet the home is still receiving the homestead tax credit, and ownership information has not been updated.
  • 3037 Walbrook Avenue, purchased with another Reiff-affiliated shell company, ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1019 Darley Avenue, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1677 Darley Avenue, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2011, ownership information is not updated.
  • 505 S Bentalou Street, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2011, ownership information is not updated.
  • 1805 E Federal Street, purchased by ETS Maryland. Right of redemption was foreclosed in 2012, ownership information is not updated.

What’s really shocking is that while ETS Maryland was purchasing city-owned properties, the city was filing receivership cases on ETS — 25 total open receivership cases, in fact, going back to 2008.

Then we come to Stanley Rochkind — a landlord who has been the defendant in hundreds of lead paint lawsuits and other housing violations, dating back to at least the 1980s. Not to mention, he owns dozens of blighted dilapidated homes under various business trusts, LLCs, and other shell companies. I was able to find 150 of them, though I believe there are many more.

Citizens need to be aware of who they’re doing business with — a home, even for a renter, is an investment. For most people, it’s their single-largest monthly payment. Many kudos to the City of Chicago for recognizing that taxpayers need to have all the tools possible to make good choices — and we’ll keep writing about Baltimore’s bad landlords until we’ve written about all of them.  Because for every John Reiff and Stanley Rochkind out there who don’t play by the rules, there are dozens of people who want to be responsible property owners, and we need to pave the way for them — a good first step would be putting the bad ones out of business.



Update: 1000 Scott Street

This is an interesting property — a small apartment building in a block with single-family homes.  It caught fire a few years ago and has sat deteriorating ever since.  The property has now become a problem for the home next door, and the city has filed for receivership.

What makes it interesting — the guy who currently owns it, Brian Winfield, purchased the home after the fire and never did anything with it.  He also purchased other homes (some through the city’s Vacants to Value auctions) and has now been banned from participating in future auctions, due to his inability to rehab the homes in a timely fashion.

You can read the original post here.

Slumlord-Owned Property Raided By Police As City Demolishes Another

Police raided a home at 2615 Miles Avenue yesterday, owned by Syed Shah, who also owns the Pizza Boli’s chain.  The raid was part of a joint effort by the Baltimore City Police Department and federal law enforcement.

Mr. Shah owns several blighted properties in Remington, where the raid took place, and has earned a mention in this blog more than once.

According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, the City was planning to demolish 2605 Miles Avenue, which had no roof and structural cracks.  The home next door, also owned by Syed Shah, is in bad shape but its currently occupied.

Perhaps it’s time the City sends a clear message to Mr. Shah that his activities are not welcome in Remington, or anywhere else in Baltimore.

An Idea for the Vacants

If you live in a city, you’ve heard the term “workforce housing” more than once.  It’s an oft-misunderstood term, some think it means “low-income” or Section 8 housing, this is not necessarily so.  Workforce housing is affordable to people who earn roughly 60 to 120 percent of the area’s median income.

Instead of repackaging the City’s failed “SCOPE” program as the unsustainable “Vacants to Value” program — how about fixing up the vacants that are structurally sound, to the point where they’re habitable?  Make them available for purchase by City residents (proof of residency required, i.e., tax returns) who are eligible for workforce housing?  Further improvements on the homes (granite counters, stainless appliances, etc) could be at the new owner’s expense — the City would provide the bare bones (laminate counters, basic appliances, etc.)  If the buyer defaults on the loan (made through state/federal/City partnership), the City takes back the home and sells it at market rate.

Speaking of market rate — after the residency requirement has passed (I suggest a minimum of 5 years) — the home can be resold.  However, the original owner can only set the asking price at 10% more than what he or she paid (including additional renovation costs), guaranteeing the homes would always be available to middle-class residents.  This could easily be written into the deed/program documents.  An example of how this would play out:

  • Homeowner A buys the house at $80,000 and puts another $10,000 into it for upgraded appliances, counters, etc.  Homeowner A can now sell the house for $99,000 after five years.  ($90,000 + 10%).
  • Homeowner B buys the same house for $99,000 and spends an additional $5000 for a new patio, and an additional $5000 to add a powder room to the basement.  Homeowner B can sell the home for $119,900 ($109,000 + 10%)

Some possible hurdles and responses:

The City has said it doesn’t want to be in the real estate business — Well, folks, the City is in the real estate business — that’s what Vacants to Value is.  Instead of expecting residents to totally gut and rehab vacants, do it for them — put the City’s huge unemployed population to work, combine the program with one of the City’s many job training programs, and let these folks work on the homes.

Investors will buy the homes, not residents.  This is where closer screening comes in.  Tax returns would be useful in determining residency — see also the University of Maryland’s requirements for receiving in-state tuition.  (Scroll to Paragraph II.)  For most of the University’s requirements, just substitute “Baltimore” for “Maryland”.

This will cost the City too much money.  Considering what the City already spends in tax incentives for big developers, why not spend some of that money on taxpaying residents?  In the long run, the City would recoup its costs (and potentially make a hefty profit once most of these areas are revitalized).  The homeowners would perhaps stay in Baltimore longer, after making such a commitment, and would be paying taxes on the homes — and hopefully shopping, dining, and playing locally.  Everyone wins!

I’d call the program Welcome Home, Baltimore.

I posted a shorter version of this on our Facebook page, and it’s gotten a few interesting responses.  Please feel free to comment on this post — ideas are always welcome!


Link Roundup

Owner of a Maryland title company pleads guilty to stealing almost $5 million from customers.

Occupy Oakland takes the vacant house problem to a new level.  Please note, we DO NOT encourage this irresponsible and destructive behavior.

Home prices are falling again — no surprises there.

Baltimore City calls its “Vacants to Value” plan “baby steps” towards dealing with the problem of vacant homes — we call it nonsense.

A filmmaker in Youngstown, Ohio documents the life and death of one vacant house.

Speaking of Youngstown, it’s become somewhat of a maverick in the “shrinking cities” movement.  Baltimore needs to shrink — what do you think?

Toledo is expected to demolish a record number of abandoned homes this year.

The Washington Post reports that 700 HUD housing projects (including 10 open projects in Baltimore) have either been delayed or abandoned — that’s a lot of wasted taxpayer money.