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City to review vacancy policies, after vacant collapse kills three firefighters

City vacants.jpg
Baltimore Heritage/Flickr
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A vacant rowhouse in Baltimore's Reservoir Hill neighborhood. On Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a review of vacant building policies.

Mayor Brandon Scott has ordered Baltimore agency leaders to review all policies and operations dealing with vacant buildings, following the deaths of three firefighters who were killed while responding to a blaze at a vacant row home.

“We are going to take the results of this 30 day review to develop an ambitious and comprehensive set of goals to reduce the number of vacancies, both through tackling existing vacant properties and preventing additional vacancies,” Scott said at a news conference Monday.

The Democrat said those reforms will include efforts to prevent properties from becoming vacant in the first place, such as reforming the city's tax sale process.

City Administrator Chris Shorter will oversee the review, which will encompass every city department.

The vacant home on S. Stricker St. where three firefighters lost their lives last week is one of more than 15,000 vacant homes in Baltimore. Housing records show that the privately owned home has been vacant since at least 2010.

The New Southwest/Mount Clare home caught fire in 2015, injuring three firefighters. Baltimore then condemned the property, offering it for sale due to unpaid property taxes. No one purchased the three-story home, so it stayed in its owners’ hands.

Those owners failed to complete a mandatory vacant home registration with the city in 2020. The home was last inspected by the city earlier this month; an inspector noted it was properly boarded up and clean.

Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy attributed the city’s plethora of vacants to population loss coupled with decades of disinvestment rooted in redlining and racist housing policies, complications from tangled title issues and long-held properties owned by non-responsive investors.

She said the city has utilized code enforcement, private acquisition, property donation, condemnation, receivership, tax lien foreclosure and demolition to combat vacancies.

“We have made progress, but there is more to do,” she said. “We are on the brink of having the lowest number of vacant properties in the city in decades. But what happened last week in a privately owned and vacant building in our city should never happen, and the time is now under Mayor Scott's leadership to act further to leave no stone unturned as we do this work.”

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