Demolition: a Fiscally Responsible Housing Strategy in Baltimore

Much like other cities in our country, Baltimore is home to a vast number of abandoned houses that are deteriorating more and more with each passing day.  According to a Brookings report, the number of vacant houses increased by 44% from 2000 to 2010.  These houses drastically drive down the value of other homes in the area and are an eyesore to those in the community.  In areas like Baltimore where many vacant homes have been deteriorating for years, even decades, the sheer number of abandoned and dilapidated homes leaves the city with the dilemma of whether to demolish and rebuild, or refurbish and put to new use.  In some areas where the homes have become dangerous to passersby, demolition is the best option, but comes with a significant cost.  In areas of the country with detached homes, demolition is cheaper and a very easy decision.  Baltimore’s row homes are expensive to demolish, because the process can often involve building support walls to provide stability to adjoining homes.  Economic conditions have decreased municipal budgets, and reducing funds available for demolition.  Unfortunately, refurbishing homes isn’t any cheaper.

Since this process is so expensive, it is imperative that local authorities strategically decide which properties have the most potential to improve the community.  According to a report by Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program , “The cost of maintaining vacant and abandoned buildings is high, which, when coupled with the loss of revenues associated with these properties, can lead to a significant fiscal drain on local government.”  This is a precarious situation for both the city and the property owner, and usually winds up a loss for both parties.  In addition to this, vacant properties reduce the liveliness and quality of life of the city’s neighborhoods, become a barrier to their revitalization, and lowers motivation for the revitalization of large swaths of the city.

According to the  Brookings report, Baltimore City has seen an increase of over 10% of vacant houses and the market demand is not strong enough to sustain the supply of these vacant houses, meaning demolition is a viable solution to help ease the impact these vacant houses will have and to create new spaces that will better serve the communities around them.   The Park Heights community has already begun to use demolition in their revitalization strategy, and the City has committed new money from a bank settlement to demolish about 700 of the most critical vacants in the city.

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