Mayor Brandon Scott on Thursday speaks during BUILD's news conference outside of a row of vacant homes on Saratoga Street in West Baltimore's Franklin Square neighborhood. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

City officials, faith leaders, and community members gathered Thursday in front of a row of vacant houses on Saratoga Street across from Greater Harvest Baptist Church in West Baltimore’s Franklin Square neighborhood.

Their message: solving Baltimore’s vacancy crisis will require a major investment, and the city alone cannot shoulder the load.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, is calling for a $7.5 billion investment – including $2.5 billion of public funds and $5 billion of private funds – over 12 to 15 years. The group is also calling for the creation of a “special purpose entity” to raise the money.

“It won’t simply take Harvest or BUILD,” said Rev. Brent Brown, senior pastor at Greater Harvest Baptist Church. “We’ll need the city. We’ll need the state. We’ll need business leaders. We’ll need community. It’s the only way if we all come together and step forward.”

Mayor Brandon Scott said leaders must act urgently to address Baltimore’s vacant housing issue while also diligently engaging community members in the development process.

“If we don’t start this work now, somebody will be standing here outside Greater Harvest 20 years from now talking about the same problem,” Scott said. “We have to do that work now.”

Thursday’s gathering on Saratoga Street coincided with BUILD’s release of a report, prepared by community development firm czbLLC, outlining the scope of the city’s vacancy issue and a multi-stage plan to address the problems.

The “Whole Blocks, Whole City” report identifies 15,000 vacant and abandoned houses and 21,000 vacant lots, as well as 34,000 houses that are at risk of becoming vacant because they sit next to currently vacant properties.

The report calls for a holistic approach to addressing vacancies, including the purchase and rehabilitation of vacant homes; demolishing vacant homes that cannot be rehabbed and infilling the properties with new homes, apartments, parks, or other community needs; and helping residents of owner-occupied access resources to repair their homes to prevent issues from spreading.

BUILD stresses that this work will be done without displacing residents – and hopes that it will encourage residents to return to Baltimore after leaving the city for the suburbs.

Baltimore can be rebuilt without displacing its current residents. In fact, by rebuilding we can restore the wealth of so many legacy families who have had their housing wealth robbed from them over the past 50 years,” said Rev. Andrew Connors, pastor at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Connors lives on Stricker Street, one block away from the vacant home where a fire claimed the lives of Lt. Paul Butrim, firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler, and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo.

Those three firefighters would not have died if the house had not been vacant for so many years, Connors said.

“The time to act is now so that these ancient ruins can be rebuilt,” Connors said. “The time to act is now so that we can raise up the foundations of many generations. The time to act is now so that we can all become repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in. Now is the time to act.”

The urgency was punctuated by chants of “now” by BUILD members.

A major presence was missing from Thursday’s gathering on Saratoga Street – in physical form though perhaps not in spirit: Bishop Douglas Miles, founder of BUILD and leader of Koinonia Baptist Church, who died Aug. 3, 2021.

“I’ll be very remiss today if I didn’t say that I can feel and felt Bishop Miles over my shoulder,” Scott said. “When I last spoke with Bishop Miles, he said a bunch. But one of the things that I remember is him saying ‘Brandon, be bold, be brave, but most importantly be together. Because together is the only way that Baltimore’s going to make it out of the issues that we have.’”

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at

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  1. Can you share a link to the plan / the document detailing their strategy and the associated costing? Thank you

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