Static va­cant num­bers hide shift­ing land­scape

Bal­ti­more razes houses but barely keeps up as new ones go empty

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can and Chris­tine Zhang

De­spite de­mo­li­tion crews work­ing at an un­prece­dented pace in re­cent months to tear down Bal­ti­more’s va­cant houses, the num­ber of aban­doned build­ings in the city has barely budged. Even as long rows of empty houses are be­ing razed, other homes are go­ing va­cant much faster than of­fi­cials had ex­pected — for rea­sons they’re all but at a loss to ex­plain.

In Fe­bru­ary, city records listed 16,724 va­cant build­ings. Eight months later, the fig­ure was 16,577.

Hous­ing of­fi­cials pledged in March to fi­nally make progress on re­duc­ing the num­ber of crum­bling, boarded-up houses that blight the city. They pro­vided The Bal­ti­more Sun with de­tailed plans for the com­ing year and pin­pointed build­ings to be de­mol­ished. Hous­ing Com­mis­sioner Michael Braver­man said that by sum­mer 2020, the city would bring the tally be­low 15,000 for the first time in 15 years.

To­day, that goal ap­pears to be out of reach.

An anal­y­sis of city data shows over­all num­bers of va­cants fall­ing rapidly in ar­eas tar­geted for de­mo­li­tion. But in other neigh­bor­hoods across the city, the num­bers have climbed, es­pe­cially in six com­mu­ni­ties across South­west Bal­ti­more and in a clus­ter

of three ar­eas in East Bal­ti­more.

Braver­man said his team fell slightly short of its de­mo­li­tion goal for the 2019 bud­get year that ended June 30, and watched as “sig­nif­i­cantly more” houses than it fore­cast be­came va­cant.

“We’re see­ing those ac­cru­als hap­pen­ing in places that we were not ex­pect­ing a rate that high,” Braver­man said — in­clud­ing in neigh­bor­hoods that aren’t among the city’s most dis­tressed.

He said his team doesn’t know the cause. “I could only spec­u­late,” Braver­man said.

A vi­cious cy­cle

JERRY JACK­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Broad­way East neigh­bor­hood in Bal­ti­more is a patch­work of va­cant houses and va­cant lots in­ter­spersed with a hand­ful of oc­cu­pied homes.

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