© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Know about a vacant home in Baltimore County? The county wants to hear from you

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and members of his administration take notes during a county BC Stat meeting.
John Lee
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and members of his administration take notes during a county BC Stat meeting.

Baltimore County is searching for abandoned homes, but finding them may be more complicated than you would think.

While the county has found only 41 vacant homes so far, officials say the actual number could be in the thousands.

The county is coming up with a list of abandoned homes now because the County Council recently passed a law which takes effect April 10 defining what constitutes a vacant house. So in theory, the county legally can do something about the residential property such as getting it back on the real estate market.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski proposed the legislation. His administration now is figuring out how to implement it.

“We’re having iterative conversations about what the technology looks like, what the processes will be, how we then respond to it,” Olszewski said. “But the good news is we have the foundational legal authority to begin that work.”

One question that has come up is if a house has a squatter, can it be deemed vacant? The answer is no, according to county officials.

Adam Whitlock, the county’s chief of code enforcement, said officials don’t know right away if it’s a squatter or someone who has a legal right to be there.

“I’ve never gone to a property where there’s a squatter and they’ve answered the door and said ‘yeah I’m squatting.’ Everybody’s uncle’s best friend owns the property so it’s a tricky situation,” Whitlock said.

Milana Vayner, chief of policy and strategic initiatives for the county’s department of housing and community development, said the county will send someone out to talk to the squatters.

“To see if they can talk to them, find out why they’re there, and maybe find them suitable housing,” Vayner said.

The county tapped big data to track down any potential vacant residential properties.

Momen Abukhdeir, the county’s chief data and performance officer, said they first looked at homes where no one is using water, gas or electricity or that the county is auctioning off for unpaid taxes.

“And then we took that data and when you look at that total list, that list at some point almost got up to 4,000 different addresses,” Abukhdeir said.

But a closer look found that they needed to change how they analyzed the data, targeting homes with all four issues, not just one or two. So no gas, no water, no electricity, and a tax sale.

“Also in some way, someone went out there from the county and saw that it looked unoccupied,” Abukhdeir said. “And after we put all of that information together we got that more concrete list of about 41. But we know there are way more vacants in Baltimore County than 41.”

Abukhdeir said there could be as many as several thousand abandoned homes in the county.

To put that in perspective, Baltimore City estimates it has around 15,000 vacant homes.

County officials talked about the vacants at a recent meeting of BCSTAT, the county’s ‘data driven performance management program’ which hosts regular meetings.

That’s when about three dozen people, Olszewski, his department heads and others gather in a room for an hour and use data to look at a specific issue. The topic on any given day can range from sustainability, to education, to public safety.

“I would be hard pressed to find another jurisdiction where you have that level of high level staff, all in the meetings, all the department heads, the county executive coming to pretty much every single meeting that we’ve had,” Abukhdeir said.

On Tuesday, the team discussed quality of life in neighborhoods. Members were told about specific occupied homes that have had numerous citations for nuisance issues like tall grass and trash as well as abandoned houses.

Olszewski asked his team if the county is making it easier for residents to report possible vacants.

“Are we looking at having either a call-in option, or 3-1-1, or BaltCoGO app for folks to sort of add that to the system as well?” he queried.

The answer he received is they’re working on it.

David Bycoffe, the county’s director of emergency management, said firefighters will play a part in finding abandoned homes too.

“Just because of 9-1-1 calls. Fire alarms sounding, water flow alarms, things that happen to these buildings when they’re empty,” Bycoffe said.

Other ways the county may try to find vacant homes in the future include satellite images and cable bills.

Vayner, with the county’s housing department, said having the ability to designate a home as being vacant will allow the county to help developers find and renovate abandoned and blighted homes.

“The goal of the legislation was to move the homes from vacancy to occupancy, and this new process will create, hopefully, those housing opportunities and address these long-standing community concerns about vacant and blighted properties,” she said.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
Related Content