Baltimore’s Vacants to Value Summit

Mayor Rawlings-Blake announcing her “Vacants to Value” plan to curb blight (Image Source: baltimorecity.gov)

by Millie Hrdina

I was among 600 plus, who attended Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s Summit on Vacants to VALUE (V2V): Addressing the Challenge – Breaking New Ground. Because of the overflow crowd, it was relocated to the Baltimore Convention Center.

Breakfast with the Mayor was followed by a full day of break-out sessions, lunch with a keynote speaker, and a networking reception with the Mayor. Nuts and Bolts of V2V introduced the leadership team of Baltimore Housing, outlined the strategies, partners and goals of the mayor’s new initiative to address the impact of blight in our communities. The current vacant housing situation, it was explained, was 50 years in the making. There are about 30K vacancies. Of which 14K are lots and 16K houses. The city owns about ¼ and the other ¾ are privately owned. The challenge is that for 2/3 of them there is no market.  To meet this challenge, a six point strategy plan was introduced.

My day went like this: Promoting Stronger Neighborhoods Through Code Enforcement described one of the strategies being employed by the City. CHIP (Computerized Housing Inspection Process) is being reorganized from 74 to 64 districts and a new approach with more active observation of vacancies is being implemented along with other tactical code informant items.

The Working Power Lunch included Allan Mallach’s informative Keynote: V2V in a National Context. He emphasized that any strategy must be sensitive to market reality and encouraged finding the sweet spot of the market, focus on risk vs potential, maximize neighborhood market impact of every public dollar and identify creative non-development uses for heavily disinvested areas.

The panel of speakers at Suggestion Box: Dollar Houses and Other Ideas made clear that tax cuts and dollar houses were not in the plan. One panelist stressed location, location, location – meaning that rehab would not work in depressed areas and Mr. Mallach outlined what to look for from the city: 1. reasonable taxes, 2. Quality services, 3. Quality infrastructure and environment, and 4. addressing and moving forward on issues and problems. In the second afternoon session – It Doesn’t Have to be Housing: Open Spaces and Adaptive Reuse, Beth Strommen, Office of Sustainability, talked about the recent census numbers. Planning should be focused on what Baltimore is! It is a city with a population of 621,000 and should not worry about returning to the all time high of ~850,000. She explained the concept of “food deserts” and outlined Baltimore’s sustainable program hope to change food policies. Other panelist addressed open green spaces, adopt-a-lot agreements and Main Street needing steroids.

I’ll admit my heart was at the second session. Not only do I feel it is potentially the easiest means to handling a large segment of Baltimore’s blight but quite possibly the cheaper of all the opportunities which exist to us as a community. There is a great deal of grant monies available to assist the partners in the cost. To me it clearly belongs high on the list of options in a 10 year plan for Baltimore. It develops a broader scope of utility and creates more community pride than most of the others.

It appeared to me, as well as other attendee that I have since spoken with, that the large majority of the audience was developers. I hope that as the city goes forward with developing a 10 year plan it continues this conversation and broadens the scope of community partners inviting all walks of citizens to step up and double their efforts to revitalize Baltimore shifting vacants to value.  Click here for Mayor Stephanie Rawling-Blake’s V@V web site.

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5 thoughts on “Baltimore’s Vacants to Value Summit”

  1. I agree with the assessment of the last option. I personally think it’s better than creating more housing stock. We’ll begin to repair some of the damage done to the Chesapeake bay and tributaries since colonization of the state by filtering and reducing runoff of waste water. 😀

    I also was once in favor of massive development, but I realize that the more houses an area has, the lower housing values are because of the law of supply and demand.

    As suburban developments continue to move outward and destroy the natural areas accessible from the city, it is a wonderful idea to believe that there may be more green space inside the city itself.

    The settlers destroyed the world’s biggest temperate rain forest that once graced the east coast of the united states, but I think we can at least bring some of it back.

    I have to admit, I no longer live in Baltimore, but I still love it. I was in my old neighborhood over the weekend and it was great. I’m glad to see so many other green-loving hippies are taking hold in the CITY!

    Can I smile? I am going to attempt to buy as many lots as I can and turn them into green space. NOT for food production, btw. I tried to impress on some “gardeners” that the soil needs to be tested before determining that the produce is fit for human consumption. In a demolition site, the soil may need a while to recover.

    I plan to plant native plant species and I am very excited to think that I and my neighbors can make a difference in the beauty of our state, our beloved waterways and city.

  2. Thank you for your response.

    When I move to Baltimore several years back, I was disappointed to find there was no neighborhood park or even small green space close to my home. I have developed a plan to change this over the next five years. All life will be greatly enriched as others join in the movement and do similar.

    Soil can be “regrown” to a healthy state. It takes time and commitment. It is my hope in The 10 Year V2V Plan that Baltimore City reconsiders its compost policies and start fostering soil regrowth with widespread, responsible composting. It is doable with education. This would also reduce trash hauling cost.

  3. Charles,
    That would be great. Have you registered yet for one of the workshops the city is giving on “How To Buy”? Here is info on their next one:

    Baltimore Housing – Vacants to Value Initiative
    Trying to rehab a property? Need financing? Come to the next Baltimore Builds Workshop Series and learn about Using the FHA 203K Program for Rehab Financing on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M. at the Cylburn Arboretum Vollmer Center – located at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21209. Call and pre-register today at 410.396-4111.

    Their facebook page is:
    Baltimore Housing – Vacants to Value Initiative

    It will keep you posted and up to date on what they are doing and you can make it happen. The very best to you!

    Appreciativley, Millie

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