Mayor Issues Directive to Address Vacant Houses
Monday Jan 31st, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
City Agencies Have 30 Days to Conduct Internal Review and Provide Recommendations to Inform Plan to Deal with Baltimore’s Vacant Housing Stock
BALTIMORE, MD. (Monday, January 31, 2022) — Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced an official directive to all City agencies to conduct an internal review of all operations, procedures, and processes connected to how the City government deals with vacant houses. This announcement comes after a building collapse in a fire at a privately-owned vacant house on the 200 block of South Stricker Street last week left three Firefighters dead and one seriously injured.
City Administrator Chris Shorter will lead the review.
DHCD attorneys are on track to successfully file nearly 500 receivership cases this fiscal year. With this directive, Mayor Scott is seeking to increase these numbers substantially.
“This is one of the most consequential undertakings of my Administration; there is too much at stake to leave a single recommendation off the table,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “This is a top priority of my Administration. Anything less than our very best attempt at solving the problem would be a discredit to the lives of the brave firefighters we lost last week and the residents we serve day in and day out.”
As of January 28, 2022, there were 15,032 vacant houses in Baltimore City. About 13,560 of these vacant properties have private owners. Approximately one-third of the vacant buildings are already under a transformation: being rehabbed by a private owner; part of a larger redevelopment plan; in court under a vacant building receivership action; being prepared for demolition; or a City-owned vacant available for immediate sale to a qualified buyer ready to rehab. The Department of Housing and Community Development under Commissioner Alice Kennedy has ongoing initiatives in place to acquire and convert, stabilize or demolish these vacant houses. This directive aims to accelerate, expand, and enhance these processes and reduce the number of vacant homes in Baltimore City.
“The City has worked to identify and combine funding sources, which has led to progress in reducing the overall number of vacants," said Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy. "But we are ready to redouble our efforts and look for ways to advance the goal of mitigating nuisance properties and holding derelict property owners accountable.”
Vacant buildings reduce property values, increase blight, attract crime, and pose a nuisance to neighboring properties. Still, the process to clear privately-owned vacant houses often gets bogged down by time-consuming and resource-intensive legal processes. Before a property can be demolished or renovated, the City must either acquire the property or file a receivership to push the property to public auction. These properties are often laden with thousands of dollars of debt and title issues, making these legal actions extremely complicated. Rehabilitating a single vacant property has a high cost in terms of labor, time, and financial resources.
All City agencies and departments have 30 days to provide City Administrator Chris Shorter with a full accounting of every effort they are engaged in to reduce the number of vacant properties and provide ideas for best intensifying these efforts. Once the review is complete, Mayor Scott will announce an ambitious and comprehensive set of goals to reduce the number of vacants, both through tackling existing vacant properties and preventing additional vacancies.
“I want to thank Mayor Scott for tasking all city agencies with this critically important mission,” said City Administrator Chris Shorter. “I look forward to working with the Housing Commissioner, City Solicitor, and other government officials to review our current strategies to alleviate nuisance properties and provide comprehensive recommendations to the Mayor on operational, financial, and legal tools that strengthen our prevention and enforcement efforts.”
Mayor Scott has made Ensuring Clean and Healthy Communities and Equitable Neighborhood Development priority pillars within his administration's Action Plan. Addressing vacant properties is a central component of both of these pillars.
Goal 2.2 of the Equitable Neighborhood Development Pillar is to identify and stabilize vacant structures adjacent to occupied properties to prevent additional vacancies, stabilize communities, and attract new homeowners to Baltimore neighborhoods.
This internal review process and the recommendations it will produce builds on existing efforts to prevent properties from turning into vacants – such as reforming the City’s tax sale process – and address existing vacants – Vacants to Value, reform of the deposition process, and public-private initiatives to bridge the appraisal gap on vacant properties and rebuild blighted communities.
As a first step forward within the 30-day window, Mayor Scott will announce an American Rescue Plan Act funding allocation to tackle vacant houses and blight in Baltimore’s most underserved communities in the coming weeks.
On top of financial investment, the City will look at legislative and procedural changes necessary to accelerate this work and forge public-private partnerships to shorten the time it takes to condemn and requisition privately-owned vacant properties.