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What is Vacancy? A Workshop on Understanding Abandoned Housing in Baltimore

What do you know about vacant houses? Baltimore City has over 16,000 vacant homes that contribute to a wide range of challenges for Baltimore residents and neighborhoods. Are they "eyesores" that all need to be torn down? Or historic buildings with potential for reuse? Bring your questions and ideas to a free workshop on vacant housing in Baltimore dedicated to exploring this important issue facing Baltimore's historic neighborhoods.

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Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference 2016

On September 28-30, 2016, approximately 1,000 urban changemakers will gather in Baltimore, Maryland, for the seventh national Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP).

Themed “In Service of People and Place,” the seventh RVP will explore how work to reclaim vacant properties can, first and foremost, improve the wellbeing of residents and the places they call home. The Conference will explore strategies to strengthen neighborhoods that are being left behind in the housing recovery and serve residents who continue to face the impacts of vacancy, abandonment, and disinvestment. Conference sessions will highlight work from around the country, including Baltimore.

Join the Center for Community Progress email list to receive updates in the coming months about  session proposals, registration, and more.

Conference inquiries should be directed to Courtney Knox, Director of National Leadership and Education at cknox@communityprogress.net or 877.542.4842 x20.

404 George Street in Seton Hill up for auction next Thursday – Update: House under contract, auction cancelled Learn more about this opportunity to turn a vacant house back into a home

Update –January 6, 2015: We just confirmed with Ashland Auction that 404 George Street is now under contract and the auction is cancelled. We plan to share additional information about the new owner and their plans for the building when we learn more. Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word!

Tucked away on a narrow street, 404 George Street has had our attention since concerned neighbors first contacted us in 2012 about this three-story rowhouse in Seton Hill. Next Thursday, January 7, the building is up for auction—offering a unique opportunity to buy a historic house just steps away from the famed Mother Seton House.

In July 2012, local residents pushed Baltimore Housing to file a receivership case against the owner who held the building since 1986. Receivership is a process where a municipality or a qualified non-profit applies for a court to appoint them as the receiver of the property and move to restore the property to use.

Courtesy MRIS, 2014.
Courtesy MRIS, 2014.

Unfortunately, years of neglect took a toll on the structure. At the first auction in October 2014, the 404 George Street received no bids from interested buyers. Thankfully, Baltimore Housing quickly responded and stabilized the building to make the property more attractive to prospective developers. Stabilizing distressed vacant houses is a key strategy for encouraging private reinvestment and is often more cost-effective than demolition.

On Thursday, January 7 at 1:00 pm, 404 George Street is up for auction again. If you are a local builder, developer or an enthusiastic home rehabber, we invite you to come out next Thursday and invest in this beautiful community. If you are a neighbor, we need you to help spread the word!

Built in the 19th century, 404 George Street is less than a block away from the Mother Seton House and St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel—an 1808 landmark designed by architect Maximilian Godefroy. St. Mary’s Park boasts a recently restored fountain and won recognition from Baltimore City Paper as the city’s best park in 2014. The 2012 master plan for Seton Hill has much more information on the neighborhood. Of course, the property is eligible for city and state historic tax credits—review our historic tax credit guide for more details.

Please help make 2016 the year that the vacant house at 404 George Street turns back into a home.

St. Mary's Park. Courtesy Live Baltimore.
St. Mary’s Park. Courtesy Live Baltimore.

Learn more about 404 George Street and the auction process from the Ashland Auction Group. For questions or more information, contact auctioneer Adam Shpritz by phone at 410-365-3595 (cell) or 410-488-3124 (office) or by email at adam@ashlandauction.com. Bids start at $30,000. Pre-bid offers are accepted by phone at 410-488-3124 or by email to adam@ashlandauction.com.

What does Project CORE mean for Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods? Over 450 buildings are proposed for demolition in 2016. Learn more about city and state plans for vacant buildings.

This past January, Governor Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Project CORE—a plan for the state to spend $75 million on tearing down and stabilizing vacant buildings and $600 million on incentives for redevelopment over the next seven years. Mayor Rawlings Blake called it “demolition dollars on steroids.”

In February, Governor Hogan added CORE (short for Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise) to his supplemental budget. The General Assembly approved $7.1 million for Project CORE in 2016 and committed to offer the rest of the funding over the next three years. Baltimore City pledged to match the state’s funding with up to $20.5 million. Although the final details on the amount of funding are still being determined, we expect the overall project will include around $100 million over the next four years. Overall, Project CORE is expected to fund the demolition of as many as 4,000 vacant buildings.

4303 Park Heights Avenue. Courtesy DHCD.
4303 Park Heights Avenue in Central Park Heights. Courtesy DHCD.

We know we can’t save every vacant house in Baltimore but we know that demolition alone won’t solve the city’s problems either. Baltimore Heritage is seeking a balanced approach that preserves buildings that are important to community residents and invests in alternatives to demolition in all historic neighborhoods. To reach this goal, we need to take a close look at the city’s vacant buildings. We need to understand what buildings may be demolishing under Project CORE and why. Finally, we need to hear from you. What do you think about CORE and the demolition of vacant buildings in Baltimore?

How many vacant houses does Baltimore have? Where are they located?

Baltimore Housing keeps track of over 16,000 vacant buildings. Over two-thirds of the city vacant building notices are found in areas that the Baltimore City Planning Department’s housing market typology calls “stressed markets”—neighborhoods with deteriorated buildings, many vacant properties, and more renters than homeowners.

2023-2027 Herbert Street. Courtesy DHCD.
2023-2027 Herbert Street in Mondawmin. Courtesy DHCD.

Nearly all of these buildings are fifty years old or older. Over 7,000 of the vacant buildings are in National Register designated historic districts. Eleven districts contain over 100 vacant buildings and two districts, the Old West Baltimore Historic District and Baltimore East/South Clifton Park Historic District, each have over 1,500.

The large number of vacant properties in historically African American neighborhoods like Old West Baltimore is no coincidence. For decades, mortgage discrimination against black homeowners, housing segregation, and employment discrimination have driven disinvestment in African American neighborhoods. This is one reason some housing justice advocates are concerned about demolition policies that follow existing market conditions. For example, a recent report by the Baltimore Housing Roundtable noted the troubling similarity between the city’s housing market typology in 2014 and the “redlining” maps created by the U.S. Home Owners Loan Corporation in the 1930s.

What buildings are affected by Project CORE?

Last month, Baltimore Housing and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) shared their 2016 plan for 75 demolition “clusters” (each cluster ranging in size from two to twenty-three buildings) for a total of 468 buildings in twenty-nine neighborhoods. We have published a list of these demolition clusters and created a simple map based on that data. Photographs of the buildings proposed for demolition are available in this report from DHCD.

554-572 Presstman Street. Courtesy DHCD.
554-572 Presstman Street in Upton. Courtesy DHCD.

Approximately 71% of the buildings selected for demolition are in private hands, with most of the remaining properties owned by Baltimore City (Mayor/City Council) and a few held by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.


Neighborhoods with five or more demolition clusters include Broadway East, Shipley Hill, Middle East, and Sandtown-Winchester. About half the of demolition clusters are inside historic districts, including Baltimore East/South Clifton Park, Old West Baltimore, Franklin Square, Old East Baltimore, Coldstream Homestead Montebello, and East Monument. Other affected neighborhoods include Mondawmin, Upton, Coldstream Homestead Montebello, and Central Park Heights

CORE 2016 Demolition clusters by Historic District

Additional details on the proposal and affected properties are available through the Baltimore Housing demolition map (showing CORE and other funded demolition) and the Baltimore codeMap which shows past demolition projects funded by the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement (labeled as the 2012 AG Demo Cluster) and other sources.

Why are these buildings selected for demolition?

Over a decade ago, Baltimore Housing moved from tearing down individual vacant buildings to tearing down whole blocks. Arguably, this approach saves the city money by avoiding the cost of rebuilding concrete block party walls adjoining still occupied homes. Similarly, the city avoids displacing homeowners or renters where possible—avoiding the cost of relocating residents and purchasing replacement homes.

Baltimore Housing has argued for demolition not only for “blight elimination” (removing groups of buildings that may threaten public safety) but also on removing houses in neighborhoods where they believe that the demand for housing is never going to return to a level where private developers can profit from the rehab of distressed vacant buildings. 64 of the 74 CORE demolition clusters are located in these “stressed” markets according to the City’s housing typology.


In addition, the city’s demolition strategy is intended to complement other community planning efforts. For example, the buildings in the Shipley Hill neighborhood are targeted for demolition in part to try to improve the safety of students walking to nearby Frederick Elementary School.

301-307 S. Catherine Street. Courtesy DHCD.
301-307 S. Catherine Street in Shipley Hill. Courtesy DHCD.

What can Baltimore Heritage do about vacant houses?

The first step in our efforts on CORE and vacant houses more broadly is to understand the issue and make sure that Baltimore residents have a clear and complete understanding of the proposed demolitions. Vacancy is a complicated issue and community residents deserve a voice in what we do about it.

Unfortunately, many of the traditional tools or incentives used to promote historic preservation—landmark designation or state tax credits for private homeowners—simply don’t help when owners don’t have the money to fix up vacant houses. We must take a more comprehensive approach that acknowledges the necessity of demolition in some cases, fights to fund preservation where possible, and advocates for broader policies (such as investments in public transit) that build opportunity for residents in neighborhoods suffering from decades of discrimination and neglect.

3208-3210 Elgin Avenue. Courtesy DHCD.
3208-3210 Elgin Avenue in Walbrook. Courtesy DHCD.

The state funding for demolition comes with the requirement that Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) lead a preservation review process that offers Baltimore Heritage and our statewide partner Preservation Maryland an opportunity to comment on the plans and advocate for “mitigation” to offset some of the impact of demolishing historic houses in historic neighborhoods. Of the millions in city and state funds allocated to demolition in the next four years, we are asking CORE to spend 10% on preservation-based approaches to vacant housing. This funding could support:

  • Stabilization of vacant buildings with potential for reuse
  • Grants or low-interest loans for private developers to reuse vacant buildings in stressed markets
  • Support for community partners to work with residents on vacant housing issues

Later this week, we are meeting with DHCD, the Maryland Historical Trust, Baltimore Housing, and our partners Preservation Maryland and the Baltimore National Heritage Area to discuss mitigation and the next steps in the review process. We expect the state to complete this first round of review in the next few weeks.

Moving forward, we plan to follow this issue closely and we welcome your comments, suggestions or questions on vacant housing and preservation and Project CORE.

Update: DHCD has removed two of the demolition clusters from the list. 4116-4118 Hayward (2 properties) and 1113-117 N Collington (3 properties) are now expected to be rehabilitated instead of demolished.