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Maryland General Assembly

State lawmaker suggests rehab of vacant homes

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced a plan in early January to demolish thousands of vacant row homes across the city.

But Del. Keith Haynes has a different proposal. The Baltimore Democrat says that while some vacant homes should be torn down, others may still have life left in them. 

On a cold Monday late last month, he stood on Vine Street in Baltimore’s Fayette Street Outreach neighborhood to offer an example of a block where rehabilitation, rather than demolition, would be valuable. As Haynes spoke, a man hammered on new front steps for his home nearby.

“Clearly there's a certain level of pride that people are taking in their property regardless of the conditions that there are around them, because they have decorated their front porch with seasonal flowers — on the doorsteps as well — and you have a gentleman here who's repairing the steps to the front of his home," he said. "They want to have a better living condition on their block, and so they're taking that pride, and they're doing whatever's necessary to the extent that they possibly can."

Haynes has introduced two bills in Annapolis that would expand city property tax credit programs to encourage the rehabilitation of vacant homes.

The homes must be either in communities where at least 35 percent of the houses have been vacant for the prior three years; or in the Sandtown-Winchester, Upton, Fayette Street Outreach, Boyd-Booth or Shipley Hill neighborhoods.

The program specifically targets individuals who make the houses their primary homes. A larger developer could qualify if it rented the property to residents at affordable rates. 

According to the most recent available city data, Baltimore has more than 16,000 vacant homes.

Last month, Hogan pledged $75 million to demolish many of them, though none of that money has been budgeted so far. Hogan and Rawlings-Blake said they would turn many of the demolished homes into green space.

Haynes said his proposal could work with this plan.

“Quite clearly, there are some blocks that need to be reviewed for demolition, and maybe green space created or some other type of development in those areas as well," he said. "One size doesn't fit all.”

A spokesman for the governor said Hogan’s administration has not taken a position on Haynes’ proposal. The Mayor’s office said Haynes’ tax credit program would be too expensive and redundant with existing programs. 

Ray Kelly, an organizer with the No Boundaries Coalition, an advocacy group in West Baltimore, said the communities there want to achieve a balance between neighborhoods that are safe but also affordable for existing residents.

“We need to ensure that there's a plan for the people that have struggled through the blight in that community, trying to sustain and endure what they can so they can afford to continue to live there with development," he said. "We would love to see our community grow. We just want to make sure that we're a part of it.”

Ultimately, Kelly said, the city or state needs to address the issues causing the blight before it starts tearing down the houses. 

“You can put the Taj Mahal in the middle of Sandtown, but if you don't address the public safety issues, the food desert issues and all of that that surrounds it, nobody's going to live there no matter how nice the rooms are," he said.