Static vacant numbers hide shifting landscape
Baltimore razes houses but barely keeps up as new ones go empty
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
The Broadway East neighborhood in Baltimore is a patchwork of vacant houses and vacant lots interspersed with a handful of occupied homes.