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Faith-based advocates push for Baltimore City to tackle vacant row homes, propose $7.5B plan

Standing in front of a boarded up stretch of row homes in West Baltimore City, members of a community group lined the city block of West Saratoga Street donning bright blue T-shirts on Thursday morning.

The organizers with BUILD, which stands for Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a non-partisan community and interfaith advocacy organization, are pushing for the city to address vacant and blighted structures once and for all.

There are tens of thousands of vacant houses across the city and it would take $7.5 billion of redevelopment money to tackle and potentially wipe out the city’s long standing issue, according to BUILD estimates in a recently released report that analyzed the scale of vacant and abandoned houses.

Inside that figure, the group estimates it would take $2.5 billion of public capital, up to $200 million each year. The remainder, $5 billion stemming from private funds or philanthropic money to make a dent in the situation.

As of February 2022, there were 14,989 vacant properties across the city and 1,245 of which were owned by the city government.

Bishop George Hopkins pointed out one house on the block. It has sat vacant for so many years, a tree has grown out of the ceiling.

“We can see bricks falling. The scars of neglect,” said Hopkins. “We can't see how that is impacting the psyche of our kids today. And if we're honest, the adults who stand with us today who still have been impacted, by what this does to your soul, to live in a community that has been neglected and not invested in.”

To meet its lofty goals, BUILD is also calling for the creation of a “special purpose entity” that can raise the remaining $5 billion of capital. This special purpose entity would be locally accountable and will successfully engage state leadership to address the vacancy crisis over time, according to a spokesperson for BUILD.

Last year, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott promised to invest $50 million of the city’s $641 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds as a down payment towards that overarching goal of housing stock redevelopment.

Scott promised the crowd on Thursday that he would work with BUILD leaders.

“We must act with urgency,” Scott said. “We must respect that to get development right, meaningful community engagement must be done to make sure we bring all of our residents along with us.”

The map shows where vacant houses are across Baltimore City.
Screenshot of BUILD report.
The map shows where vacant houses are across Baltimore City.
A graphic in the BUILD report shows housing changes in Baltimore City over time.
Screenshot from BUILD report.
A graphic in the BUILD report shows housing changes in Baltimore City over time.

Editor’s Note: Please click on the PDF below to read a copy of the BUILD report.

Wambui Kamau is a General Assignment Reporter for WYPR. @WkThee
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