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.