Sometimes Even Houses Are Beyond Fixing!


Driving down Greenmount Avenue to the Baltimore Montessori School, a sweet little 4 year old exclaimed gleefully, “O goody, we get to see the broken houses.”

Hidden behind those broken houses are community groups who have kept the faith with their neighborhoods and private and nonprofit developers who have steadily resurrected those broken houses, one at a time.  Telesis, People’s Homesteading, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Harbor Development, AHC, and individual homesteaders trying to hold on to their vision of a home for themselves and their loved ones.

Next year, St. Ambrose will hit the 500 mark – 500 vacant, foreclosed properties turned into lovely family homes,   The City has joined with us to make our efforts more visible by tackling the issue of 16,000 vacant properties that overwhelm the efforts of community partners like HUD, MICA, Hopkins and University of Baltimore.

Echoing a quote from an editorial in this morning’s Sun, “….That’s why last week’s announcement by the Rawlings-Blake administration of a major push forward in the Vacants to Value program is like a fresh breeze on a smoggy summer day. It demonstrates that when it comes to the issue of vacant homes, city leaders “get it.” They realize that the piecemeal, glacially slow approach of recent years, whereby a few hundred derelict houses are demolished annually, simply isn’t good enough for a city in a hurry to take its rightful place among the leaders in the nation’s ongoing urban renaissance.”  To read more –,0,5392477.story.

To learn more about the City’s methodical plan to approach this problem, check out their website.

Mayor’s Vacants 2 Value Program unique in the country.

“Over the next 2 1/2 years, the city is budgeted to spend nearly $22 million to tear down 1,500 abandoned houses — a move urban planners say could transform Baltimore visually and clear a path for struggling neighborhoods to attract future development. Previously, the city had been spending about $2.5 million a year on demolition.

The houses in communities like Johnston Square will be replaced with gardens, urban farms and green space, with the intention that someday new homes and businesses will take their place.

Ralph Moore, 61, a longtime community activist in the East Baltimore neighborhood, recently walked past a shell that once housed a family with children who poured out the front door and into the nearby St. Frances Academy. The empty house is standing amid a half-demolished strip of the city’s trademark rowhouses.

Moore and others are glad, for now, to see the vacant houses come down. But they also say they’re expecting to hear in time about plans for redevelopment.

“I think you can’t talk about demolition without answering the question, ‘What’s going to come in its place and who’s going to benefit?’ ” Moore said. “We just don’t want a lot of tracts of vacant land like Detroit.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she understands the concern. “When change comes and when there isn’t an immediate market demand, it leaves a lot of unease because the future isn’t certain,” she said. But the goal, she stressed, is “renewal and strengthening our neighborhoods. … We’re not putting the properties on the back burner.”

The demolition schedule is part of the mayor’s Vacants to Value program, which she calls a data- and market-driven approach to ridding Baltimore of a sizable portion of its 16,000 vacant, blighted houses over the next 10 years. The goal is to systematically assess vacant houses, restore those that are viable, and demolish whole swaths of those that are not, in the process creating sites for eventual redevelopment.”

Read more:,0,5409448.story#ixzz2cK5aEVAB

I Love City Life and Our Time Has Come!

This past Saturday, I took a trip to Fells Point.  Now, I live in Waverly so I don’t know if Fells Point qualifies as a trip, it is only 15 minutes away but…I have to park and then deal with the tourists, the horror, it was Red Sox fans this week, However, the Sound Garden was absolutely worth it.  I needed some music and the Sound Garden has it all.  One stop shopping, love it.  And that is what I love about our city life.  Farmers Market in the morning, quick trip to Fells Point and 15 minutes later, I am playing golf at Clifton Park for $33.

Which leads me to Thomas Friedman’s editorial in the New York Times this Sunday.   ….. “if you want to be an optimist about America today, stand on your head. The country looks so much better from the bottom up — from its major metropolitan areas — than from the top down. Washington is tied in knots…. hyper-partisanship, lobbyists and budget constraints. Ditto most state legislatures. So the great laboratories and engines of our economy are now our cities. This is the conclusion of an important new book by the Brookings Institution scholars Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, entitled: The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.…. Cities and metropolitan areas are becoming the leaders in the nation: experimenting, taking risks, making hard choices.” We are seeing “the inversion of the hierarchy of power in the United States.”

For those of us committed to the idea of community development and neighborhood stabilization, our time has come.   Good thing we have been steadily making inroads and building foundations over decades.  We are in an enviable position.

Demo vs Rehab Conversation in Cleveland Ohio

How Best to Save a Neighborhood?

Save Neighborhoods

Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 by CABOR00

This week the Plain Dealer published a series of guest columns that offer different solutions for neighborhoods impacted by vacant or abandoned homes.

On July 7, Jim Rokakis, a Vice-President with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, wrote How Best to Save a Neighborhood: The Case for Demolition. Rokakis advocates for public funding to demolish homes in neighborhoods pockmarked by foreclosures. He wrote, “As distressed properties come down, adjoining property owners will begin to regain some of the lost equity that this crisis has stripped from them, as multiple studies have proven — and continue to prove — that the demolition of distressed properties increases the value of surrounding properties.”

On July 10, Jeffrey Johnson who represents Cleveland Ward 8 on City Council wrote How Best to Save a Neighborhood: The Case for Rehabilitation. Johnson argues that “property values are higher next to a rehabilitated house than a garden on a restored vacant lot, and nothing helps prevent foreclosures more than the rehabilitation of nearby vacant houses.”

Also on July 10, the Plain Dealer published a Letter to the Editor by Lou Tisler, Executive Director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, a non-profit organization that partners with private and public sectors to provide assistance to people who want to buy a home, fix or save their home. Tisler argues that Selective demolition is helpful, but foreclosure prevention should be the first priority. Neighborhood stabilization “Should not be seen as an either/or situation in regards to demolition or rehabilitation…. For a family suffering through a job loss or a loan nightmare, staying in the home is the first priority. Northeast Ohio is built on stable communities with affordable and quality housing. In both these situations, home matters.”

Tisler goes on to say that, “Pitting housing counseling agencies against neighborhood revitalizationists against preservationists will produce no winners; we must work together.”

Demolition! Oh No! OH, YES!

In the seven years I have lived in Baltimore, I have seen amazing changes in and around my community, both where I live -Waverly, and where I work – Barclay/Harwood.  However, so much of the progress is overshadowed by the demoralizing sight of derelict houses, plywood covered doors and windows and sky showing through destroyed roofs -visions from a war zone.

And based on the data map published this week in the City Paper –  overlaying the homicides that have occurred this year -126 – on top of a map of the vacants in the city, those areas are war zones.

However, I want to talk about a garden.  

At the end of Falls Street which is one block long and runs from 24th to 25th Street between Barclay and Guilford, there was an abandoned end-of -row property.  During the 7 years I have worked on 25th Street, mountains of household goods were dumped in the back yard of the house and drug dealers regularly used it to store their wares and offer free samples to prospective customers.  Not a pretty or encouraging environment for the little ones in the home whose backyard looked out on it.

Two months ago, Baltimore Housing brought in a demolition team of bulldozers and dumpsters and took it down and BAM! a pretty fenced-in garden space with pebble walkways and flowers and baby trees grew up in its place.

Imagination blossoms and neighborhoods feel empowered when they are given a blank canvas not crammed with falling down bricks and trash.

Let the demolition continue!


Seeing Possibility Everywhere

The Maryland Chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance has breakfast meetings once a month and I have been hearing the buzz for the last couple of months.  This morning, I made it to one.  The enthusiasm and energy was contagious.

Social entrepreneurship is a complicated concept and I am not going to educate anyone on the idea.  However, if you sometimes feel that you are trying to take on the problems of the world and you want to make a difference, check out their facebook page – but even better get to one of these meetings.

You will sit at the table with young people opening cafes, you will hear presentations on projects being launched all over the city.  This morning it was about the Baltimore Food Hub that is being built at Lanvale and Patterson Park with a Kitchen Incubator, a culinary school and community space.  Amazing! and Exciting!   I often refer to an underground culture in Baltimore and ‘anything is possible’ is the catch phrase for that culture.

Pay attention, you will see great things happening all over the city.

It is a good time to be in Baltimore.


HOME Matters: Talking Texan

According to national news reports, demand for housing is rising — and housing prices along with it. That’s good news for homebuilders and the overall economy, but it’s important to put those reports into context, especially when it comes to the lower end of the housing market, where people are struggling to find a home.

At nonprofit NeighborWorks Waco, where we work to build stronger neighborhoods through homeownership and other quality housing opportunities, the comeback that we’re seeing in housing still has a long way to go.

Five years ago we were building 22 houses per year; last year, we built two, and this year we’re building seven. These single-family homes are designed to be affordable — with a price between $80,000 and $110,000 – each with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a brick exterior.

Low-income buyers still have not come back into the marketplace. That’s partly because of tighter credit standards and the need for larger down payments, but it also reflects a lack of long-term confidence in the job market and a fear that buying a home, if one is laid off, could lead to foreclosure.

In our experience at NeighborWorks Waco, where we’re heavily involved in credit counseling, financial literacy and homebuyer education, most people who have gone into foreclosure first suffered a loss of income — primarily loss of a job — or an increase in expenses from a health condition or a divorce. Ballooning mortgage payments were a much smaller factor overall.

In counseling potential first-time homeowners, our primary concern is that they make a financially responsible decision. For many people, renting makes more sense.

Yet homeownership has benefits for both homeowners and the broader community that renting does not provide. That’s why the availability of housing that is affordable to those with low incomes is so important.

Homeownership, for instance, is typically the best way to build wealth over time — to create an asset that can be passed on to the next generation. Homeownership also leads to the improvement of properties in a way that renting does not. No matter how responsible a renter is, a renter rarely improves the landlord’s property.

For a homeowner, home is both a place of pride and a place whose value can typically be increased by improving its condition. Homeowners also relate to their neighbors and neighborhood differently because they share a financial stake in that neighborhood. That stake depends on one another.

Whether owned or rented, however, stable affordable housing is crucial to any community’s well-being. It’s crucial to the performance of the school system, because children in stable homes learn and achieve more in school. It’s essential to public health because healthy habits take root more easily there, and it’s vital to public safety because stable homes make communities safer.

That’s why I was pleased to be in Washington, D.C., last month to join leaders of nearly 200 housing and community development organizations from across the nation to launch a movement called Home Matters ( It’s a unique national initiative that aims to unite America around the essential role that a home plays as the bedrock for thriving lives, families and a stronger nation. The launch was spearheaded by the National NeighborWorks Association, of which NeighborWorks Waco is a member, with crucial support from Citi Community Development and Wells Fargo.

Also participating in the launch of Home Matters were Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and a bipartisan group of members of Congress representing a broad political spectrum. Their presence — even in a polarized Capitol — underscored that Home Matters no matter what your political beliefs.

Housing must lead our economic recovery because it has so much impact on the economy. As the housing market improves, however, we must ensure that it offers opportunities at all economic levels — not for irresponsible borrowing but for responsible borrowing at all levels of affordability.

The key is affordability, and that key opens the door not only to stable housing for individuals but to community improvement. The more people can afford stable housing, the better off Waco will be.

Roy Nash is the president and CEO of NeighborWorks Waco.