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New push on vacants: views from the City Housing Dept. leadership

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FIGHTING BLIGHT: These vacant townhomes on Harlem Avenue are just a few of the 15,000 vacant or abandoned homes in Baltimore that the city wants to either raze or rehabilitate. (2017 photo by Melissa Archer for DHCD)

Last month, three firefighters — Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler and Kenny Lacayo — died while fighting a fire in a vacant house in South Baltimore. That tragedy put the issue of Baltimore’s vacant houses back in the headlines, and top of mind for many.

For many others in our city, vacant houses and blight have been part of their lives for decades. Over the years, city officials have tried to address the problem of abandoned homes in a number of different ways. One idea currently being discussed in the Baltimore City Council is to revive the Dollar House program, a program that was implemented more than 40 years ago.

Since 2016, the Maryland Dept of Housing and Community Development claims to have demolished or stabilized 5,000 units, and they promise that 400 more are in the pipeline for demolition. But there are still 14,990 vacant houses in Baltimore City, according to the latest tally by the Mayor's office.

Two weeks ago, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott ordered a review of what city agencies are doing about those vacant houses, which the Mayor has promised will “inform a plan to deal with Baltimore’s vacant housing stock." The review is to be completed by the beginning of next month.

Today on Midday, a conversation with the senior leadership of the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development about the plan to rid the city of blight, and the overall strategy for creating safe, quality affordable housing for the thousands of Baltimore City residents who need it.

Joining Tom on Zoom today are: Alice Kennedy, the Housing Commissioner; Jason Hessler, the Deputy Commissioner for Permits & Litigation; and Kate Edwards, the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Development.

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Baltimore City Housing Dept. Leadership (l-r): Alice Kennedy, Commissioner; Jason Hessler, Dep. Commissioner for Permits & Litigation; Kate Edwards, Acting Dep. Commissioner for Development (photos courtesy DHCD)

As always, we welcome listener questions and comments. Our call-in lines are out-of-service today, but you can email us at [email protected], or Tweet us @MiddayWYPR

A note to our listeners: We experienced some technical difficulties with the recording of the first several minutes of today's live Midday broadcast. As a result, host Tom Hall provides a recap in today's podcast of the brief dialogue that took place before normal recording began, with our apologies to you and to our guests.

Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.