RIP Park Heights 4600 block. Courtesy Baltimore Housing/Twitter
RIP Park Heights 4600 block. Courtesy Baltimore Housing/Twitter

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake may be on her way out of office in six weeks, but she’s not going without first knocking down some more dilapidated homes.

The mayor and City Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano joined residents and local leaders in the Park Heights community this morning to celebrate the destruction of a row of vacants in the 4600 block of Park Heights Avenue. The demolition was one of many projects from the mayor’s “Vacants to Value” program, through which the city housing department acquires vacant properties and rehabs or demolishes them to eliminate urban blight. This month marks the sixth year of the mayor’s pet demolition and rejuvenation program.

“We look to programs like Vacants to Value as our way to revitalize such vital parts of our city,” Rawlings-Blake said, at the event before the homes were knocked down. In Park Heights, the city has acquired more than 80 percent of the properties in a designated Major Redevelopment Area, which includes two other full blocks along Park Heights Avenue.

She threw out some figures to speak to the program’s progress: More than 1,400 home sales initiated by the Housing Department, 900 of those being sales of buildings; more than 3,400 vacant properties rehabilitated; and more than 2,200 vacant buildings demolished.

The bricks and lumber recovered from the destroyed vacants are harvested for other projects.

Vacants to Value has generally been a success, as the Abell Foundation noted in a report published last year. Author Joan Jacobson wrote that the program “is a dependable system for identifying and cracking down on owners of derelict houses in scarred neighborhoods with plummeting property values. The program is showing signs of success in rejuvenating neighborhoods that were long neglected, like Oliver, McElderry Park, and Greenmount West.”

Jacobson did write that the program has overstated its reach by taking credit for some redevelopment carried out by private investors and developers.

Others have noted that such demolition efforts can negatively impact homeowners who live on the same block as a row of vacant buildings that are being knocked down. The Baltimore Brew interviewed a homeowner last year in Park Heights who feared he would end up homeless after he said the city grouped his home into a row that would be demolished and offered him a check for $27,000.

Still, it’s been a pretty popular option for prospective homebuyers around Baltimore seeking to invest in a property and make it their own or sell it off. This year, the program ran out of money for its booster program, which gives eligible homeowners participating in the program $10,000 for closing costs. Weeks later, it was back up with a boost in funding.

Mayor-elect Catherine Pugh has expressed interest in “accelerating” the Vacants to Value program once she takes office, per the Sun. That’s bad news for opponents of the program, but good news for those who want to see demolition continue on decrepit stretches like this one on Park Heights Avenue.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...