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Scott allocates $100 million in ARPA funds for housing initiatives

Rowhomes in Baltimore. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR
Rowhomes in Baltimore. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced an allocation of $100 million in federal relief money for housing equity initiatives Friday. It’s the Scott administration’s largest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation by far.

Scott said tackling urban blight is one of his administration’s “most consequential undertakings.”

“Not only did this issue threaten the safety and health of our first responders, the city's large vacant housing stock impacts the overall economic health and vitality of our city, and is a drain on many neighborhoods and communities,” he said.

The city launched a 30-day review process of vacant homes after three firefighters were killed in January putting out a blaze in a vacant house.

Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Shorter oversaw that review process. Shorter said that as of today, there are 14,952 vacant buildings in Baltimore City. The vast majority of those are privately owned.

“Tackling this problem will require significant financial and capital resources,” Shorter said.

He issued a list of recommendations for preventing vacancies that included preventing property tax sales, providing relief for unpaid property taxes, and more money allocated for demolishing or stabilizing vacant buildings.

Shorter said his workgroup will continue to meet regularly to ensure their recommendations are implemented.

About $40 million of the $100 million allocation will go into eliminating and preventing blight.

More than half of the $100 milion will go into affordable housing developments, including those in Park Heights and the Perkins-Somerset-Oldtown Transformation Plan area.

$4 million will be used for providing legal services and utility assistance for tenants vulnerable to eviction.

“This ARPA investment is a key step towards holistically addressing the issue of vacant properties, housing loss and housing instability across Baltimore, all issues which exacerbate public health disparities and contribute to negative economic impacts,” Scott said.

He was accompanied at his announcement by about half the City Council, as well as Congressman Kweisi Mfume.

The congressman called the ARPA allocation “significant,” and lamented that the city’s housing crisis has persisted for so long.

“Forty-three years ago a much younger version of myself raised my hand and took the oath of office to be a part of the City Council,” Mfume said. “Some of the vacants that are standing today were standing 43 years ago. That is sinful. Should never happen.”

City housing commissioner Alice Kennedy said securing this money for housing took a lot of public advocacy.

“The investment made today helps us move forward on many fronts, will further our work on resident protection and anti displacement,” Kennedy said.

Friday’s announcement follows a $90.4 million allocation Scott announced last month for homeless services; much of those funds will go into setting up hotel shelters.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.