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Could a land bank eliminate Baltimore City’s vacant housing crisis?

Odette Ramos.jpg
/Wambui Kamau
Councilwoman Odette Ramos and Councilman James Torrence announce Land Bank Authority legislation

Two city council members are leading the charge to address blight in the city of Baltimore. Councilwoman Odette Ramos and Councilman James Torrence held a press conference— surrounded by other city leaders and community developers Friday morning— to announce legislation for a land bank.

If passed, the land bank would be Maryland's first.

The first step is to create a Land Bank Authority (LBA) that would be responsible for acquiring abandoned properties. The quasi-governmental agency would then dispose of the properties in the hands of qualified developers. It would acquire the properties through In Rem foreclosure, not eminent domain.

“We know the data,” Ramos said. “There are about 15,000 vacant properties in the city. Baltimore, is spending $100 million a year on fire, police and maintenance costs relative to vacant properties,” said the councilwoman quoting a Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities Initiative study. 

As Ramos elaborated on the costs of vacant housing, a community member interrupted.

Cmty member interrupts.jpg
/Wambui Kamau
Community member interrupts press conference and shares her experience with living near a vacant house.

“Excuse me,” said an elderly woman who did not give her name. “It's not good to have to tolerate it. It's also not good to be allowed to keep the property up when the slum lords leave you.”

Councilmember Phylicia Porter whisked the woman away, listening to her concerns.

According to the Center for Community Progress which hosts the National Land
Bank Network, there are over 200 land banks across the nation.

The legislation calls for an 11 member board to run the Baltimore LBA. Members would include the Mayor or Designee, Council President or Designee, Comptroller or Designee, the DHCD Housing Commissioner, and seven other members including two residents who live in neighborhoods with considerable blight, individuals with experience in equitable development, and others with housing finance and development expertise.

Abandoned Property.jpg
/Wambui Kamau
Abandoned property in southwest Baltimore.

The Board members would be nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council. This Board would also hire a CEO.

For Councilman James Torrence, who is a co-sponsor, equity is top of mind. He says the city must be wary not to repeat mistakes of the past that led to displacement of Black residents.

“We know there's an appraisal gap. We know that systemic discrimination is happening,” Torrence said. “We heard you when you said that you shouldn't have to live next door to a vacant house, that your property value has been diminished.”

The LBA must acquire and dispose of properties equitably and in a community-based manner, said Torrence.

The Land Bank Authority would last for fifteen years, solely focusing on the vacant home crises.

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