Of­fi­cials raze di­lap­i­dated, aban­doned homes in city

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JULIET LINDERMAN

BAL­TI­MORE | Sit­ting on a crum­bling stoop on Her­bert Street in West Bal­ti­more, Salim Sadiki could al­most see his child­hood play­ing out be­fore him: A peach tree stood in front of that house, and he and his friends would sneak over the fence and snatch the ripe fruit from its branches. Once, the owner caught the boys, and Mr. Sadiki fell scram­bling back over the fence.

Now, he fin­gers the scar on his fore­head from the half-cen­tury-old wound. The block looks noth­ing like it did when Mr. Sadiki, 71, was a boy. Each rowhome now sits aban­doned. Some roofs have caved in. Boards are fas­tened to the doors, win­dow frames. The street is lit­tered with garbage.

In one hour, the home where Mr. Sadiki lived with his mother and the house just three doors down where his fa­ther moved when his par­ents split up, will be de­mol­ished. For now, green space will take its place, but the lot could some­day be a laun­dro­mat, a su­per­mar­ket or a com­mu­nity cen­ter for neigh­bor­hood chil­dren.

“I don’t see the bro­ken win­dows and the sag­ging porches. I see it the way it was,” Mr. Sadiki said. “Once these build­ings are gone, it’ll be a huge era­sure of my his­tory. This whole thing, see­ing it erased like this, re­ally sad­dens me. But noth­ing lasts for­ever. It had to go some­time.”

This sec­tion of Her­bert Street is one of many aban­doned blocks slated for de­mo­li­tion through Project C.O.R.E., a $94 mil­lion ini­tia­tive to raze a chunk of the 17,000 va­cant houses, many rid­dled with as­bestos and lead paint, that have come to sym­bol­ize the deep so­cial di­vide in Bal­ti­more.

Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Hogan un­veiled Project C.O.R.E. in 2016, eight months after Fred­die Gray’s death in po­lice cus­tody thrust the city into chaos.

The young black man’s death prompted protests and civil un­rest over the treat­ment of African Amer­i­cans by po­lice here. Swaths of West Bal­ti­more, pocked with va­cant homes, burned. A U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion found dis­crim­i­na­tory and abu­sive polic­ing prac­tices, and re­sulted in an agree­ment en­forced by a fed­eral judge to over­haul the depart­ment.

The un­rest also shed light on sys­temic fail­ures that go be­yond the po­lice: inadequate ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and job train­ing, racially seg­re­gated neigh­bor­hoods.

“Fix­ing what is bro­ken in Bal­ti­more re­quires that we ad­dress the sea of aban­doned, di­lap­i­dated build­ings in­fect­ing en­tire neigh­bor­hoods,” Mr. Hogan said.

More than 800 va­cant units have been torn down. In West Bal­ti­more, grassy spa­ces have opened where the di­lap­i­dated build­ings used to be.

Mr. Sadiki peers into his fa­ther’s old home, through a door­way with no door. His fa­ther had a green thumb, he said, and re­mem­bers ex­actly where he’d put his spi­der plants. Now, the house is filled with de­bris, trash from squat­ters and peel­ing paint.

He’s sen­ti­men­tal, but Mr. Sadiki un­der­stands the power of a clean slate. Three years ago, he was re­leased from prison after nearly four decades be­hind bars. He was one of more than 100 pris­on­ers freed be­cause of faulty jury in­struc­tions. He had been con­victed of rape at 37. Re­turn­ing to the block where he came of age was a bucket-list item he thought he’d never check off.

“I’m not sure I’ve grown or evolved ex­actly the way I would have liked,” he said. “But the per­son I am now, I’m sat­is­fied. I’ve out­lived a whole lot of peo­ple and I did have the op­por­tu­nity to re­trace my foot­steps back into my boy­hood, and that is im­por­tant.”


A crew de­mol­ishes a block of aban­doned homes in Bal­ti­more as part of Project C.O.R.E. Since its start in 2016, more than 800 va­cant units have been torn down. In West Bal­ti­more, grassy spa­ces have opened where the di­lap­i­dated build­ings used to be.

“I don’t see the bro­ken win­dows and the sag­ging porches; I see it the way it was,” said Salim Sadiki, who grew up in Bal­ti­more. The aban­doned build­ings were razed.

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