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Baltimore city council member pushes to demolish thousands of vacant properties

Baltimore has 14,780 vacant or abandoned properties across the city.
Bethany Raja
Baltimore has 14,780 vacant or abandoned properties across the city.

It’s been about six months since a vacant house fire killed three Baltimore firefighters. Since then, the city has made a small dent in the number of abandoned residential properties to curb future fires, officials told city council Tuesday.

But family members of one slain firefighter pushed for more action and called blighted properties ‘death traps’.

“These vacant structures have created an increased danger to the public servants as well as the citizens in which they serve,” said Lacey Marino, the sister of Kelsey Sadler one of the firefighters killed.

After the January fire, Mayor Brandon Scott ordered a 30-day review of the city’s strategies to address vacant houses in Baltimore.

Since March, more than 100 vacant properties were demolished by the city housing department and 88 other properties are undergoing repairs to stabilize the structures.

A recent review showed that the city has 14,780 vacant properties, the lowest number in years, officials said. Most of which are privately owned, the city owns 1,200 vacant homes.

To make substantial progress, such as reducing the number of vacant properties by 50%, would take billions, city officials estimated.

In October 2015, three firefighters were injured trying to extinguish an earlier fire at the same address.

Baltimore city council member Odette Ramos, who represents neighborhoods such as Charles Village, said there’s been a crisis in the city for decades.

Ramos said the housing issues began with “racist housing policies” some of which continue.

“We know that our lack of investment and initiative to address this problem head-on, has caused trauma, sent the wrong message that we as leaders don’t care about certain neighborhoods, and has caused immeasurable harm to our communities,” she said.

Ramos called for the demolition of half of the city’s vacant houses over the next 10 years. A project that is slated to cost $3 billion. If changes are made to city policies and with financial backing, Ramos said it is feasible.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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