If you didn’t get a chance to listen to Dan Rodricks’ show on WYPR yesterday, with Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Housing Director Paul Graziano, here are some highlights — you can also listen to a podcast here.
The City claims there are 16,000 vacant properties in Baltimore — we’re not convinced, especially when you have code enforcement inspectors who insist on debating whether a house is vacant or not…despite it being boarded up and obviously not lived in. We think the number is probably closer to 25,000 if you’re only counting houses — add another 15,000 or so if you’re counting vacant commercial/industrial properties.
Of those 16,000 the City acknowledges, 5,000 are reported to be “scattered vacants” — vacants that are scattered around the city, not in large chunks, block after block. 700 have been identified by the City as being located next to stronger development projects. Unfortunately, 10,000 (the overwhelming majority of the 16,000) have no market strength, and the City will have to board/clean or demo these houses as money becomes available. At this, the Mayor said, “We can create green space.”
The City has a goal of getting the owners of 1,000 properties to commence work in the next year, and will also be stepping up code enforcement efforts to make sure this happens. Unfortunately, this is (in our opinion) where the plan falls extremely short. Other than threatening large fines, there’s nothing different about this scenario than what already exists — when you consider how many of these abandoned homes are owned by slumlords who simply don’t care about the surrounding neighborhoods, threatening them with fines seems laughable — why hasn’t the City done this all along?
When asked about last year’s split-level property tax that would have increased the property tax on abandoned homes, Paul Graziano continued to spout the same untruths from last year — that the additional tax would affect habitable homes and legitimate property owners. Paul Graziano is the Director of Baltimore Housing — if he doesn’t understand the difference between slumlord/legit property owner and vacant uninhabitable/habitable homes, I’d say the “Vacants to Values” plan needs a closer look, and perhaps new leadership.