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Is Demolition Best For Baltimore?

P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Some advocacy groups are questioning why Baltimore City officials are spending their entire share of the attorney general’s mortgage settlement on demolishing vacant, blighted properties.

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC), joined by several other groups, sent a letter to Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano in August asking that the $10 million go towards launching an emergency mortgage assistance fund, establishing a nonprofit community banking program similar to a program in Boston and to acquire and develop a permanent housing project for homeless families. 

But the city Board of Estimates recently approved putting the money into Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s “Vacants To Value” program. The vast majority of that money will be spent on demolishing blighted properties. Only $750,000 will go to a program to help homebuyers purchase rehabbed properties.

Marceline White, MCRC executive director, says they do not have a problem with blight removal but questions why nothing was set aside to assist homeowners.

“It’s perplexing to say the least to all of us in the Baltimore City area why none of the $10 million that the mayor has gotten for Baltimore City is going to help struggling homeowners,” she said.

White points to Prince George’s County, where officials are to announce that $2 million of its $10 million share of the settlement fund will go to an emergency mortgage assistance fund to help qualified homeowners.  Prince George’s officials are also planning to put at least $3 million toward acquiring blighted properties. They will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to rehab and sell the properties or to demolish them.

Graziano calls the $10 million the city is spending on demolition part of a balanced approach in which the state will spend another $900 million from the settlement to help people with mortgage problems.

“Blight is a decades old plague on the neighborhoods of this city and it has a profound impact on peoples, the value of their properties and the quality of their life,” he said.

Graziano also pointed to Michigan where $25 million from a separate $97 million settlement with mortgage servicers will go towards blight elimination.  On the other hand, Pennsylvania will not spend any of the $66 million its receiving from the national mortgage settlement towards removing blight.

MCRC also is asking that the city follows best practice protocols for demolition that were developed by East Baltimore Development Incorporated.  Baltimore Housing says legislation borrowing from those protocols has been adopted.