Foreclosure crisis rippling out putting city neighborhoods on the offensive

BALTIMORE - There are perhaps no better images that better reflect a rotting urban core than a row of vacant rowhomes.

Today, veritable ghost towns of what were once healthy urban neighborhoods; occupied now by over grown trees, trash...and rats.

Vermin are the indicator of a growing systemic problem few residents are willing to ignore.

This is a map of all the foreclosure filings in Baltimore city for 2010.

And this is a map of all the 311 calls complaining of rats in the same year.


INTERACTIVE | Map of housing citations


Rodents, it seems in some cases move in as some families are forced out.

[So you got about 4 houses that are occupied here?] Yes. [And the rest of them are all vacant?] Yes. I see rats, trash being brought onto the empty lot up there by other people that don't even live on the block."

For Robert Wallace, the problem is more than just a dot on the map.

He's lived on the 200 block of North Madeira for 35 years.


MAP | Compare Rat Reports to Foreclosures


He owns and keeps up his house in the shadow of abandoned ones, helping to raise his sister's family while beating back what many call the after shock to the foreclosure crisis.

 

"Once a property is foreclosed and then it becomes vacant and it sort of falls into disrepair and that just sort of ripples out."

Meagan Cahill is a research assistant for the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

Chanel Wilson fights off rats while living next to a vacant home in East Baltimore



Cahill is studying the ripple effects of the recent foreclosure crisis.

She says while in many areas foreclosures themselves are slowing, many homes in many neighborhoods still to this day remain empty fueling a second chapter to the crisis of a few years ago.


"When the neighborhood was full and there weren't vacant houses, people could come together and they felt like they were in it together and they were gonna solve their problems. Now the more people are forced out of their homes, homes fall into foreclosure and they become vacant, people might sort of get a little discouraged," said Cahill.

Brenda Baker has lived on this Northeast Baltimore block since the 70's and talks about how a couple of empty homes impact her community and way of life.

Discouraged by the crime studies show can creep in, the decrease in value of their own home and the quality of life issues that pop up.

The longer foreclosed homes stay vacant, the more it becomes the pivot on which a neighborhood block could swing toward better or worse.

And in Baltimore city like in many areas, there are plenty of blocks battling that ripple back while homes continue to stay empty, for sale or in some cases...outright abandoned.

"The impact of vacants has been a problem in Baltimore for over 50 years and the foreclosure crisis has exacerbated the problem for Baltimore city," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

A worsening problem the mayor is battling by the late 2010 launch of her new program called Vacants to Values.

It is a wide ranging program that is expediting the demolition of uninhabitable decrepit homes. So far there are about 75 homes are on the list.

There is also now a stiffer penalty for neglectful owners; 900 dollars and nearly 750 of those have been given out so far.

Vacants to Values also streamlines and incentivizes the resale of abandoned properties to developers and rehabbers; an initiative the mayor says has reduced the wait time of the sale of such properties by two thirds.

With 16 thousand vacants in Baltimore city the program is by no means a cure all, but the weapon it chooses to fix the blight of yesterday and battle the growing inventory of today.

"When you live next to a vacant property and you see its decline, I imagine what you see is future decline and a loss of hope but when you see that slate being wiped clean, it's being wiped clean for new possibilities and that is what we work toward," said the mayor.

 

Daniel Reddick watches a vacant house in the 3400 block of Dupont in Northwest Baltimore get demolished by the city.

He lives across the street and said it was a magnet for all sorts of problems.

A very real benefit Wallace is seeing on his block as he watches the progress of a vacant rehab.

"It makes my life a lot better. It makes me feel like I am not the only one that cares. If we can get people in here that can clean and keep it drug free. We'd be a lot better off."

Getting people to move back in; kicking the crime, decreased home values and rats out.
 
The Vacants to Values program is only about a year old and has only identified close to 50 neighborhoods to help improve.

The city says it is working with the White House to get some federal funding to help the program expand.

How stem the tide:

Homeowners living next to a foreclosed or vacant home have some options to help combat the costly second impact of the crisis.

1. Call 311 and keep in touch with the inspections office on a particular property causing problems on your block.

2.  Familiarize yourself with the details of the Vacants to Values program including how to adopt a city owned vacant lot on your block to transform it into a more attractive green space or park.

3.  Take back your block and get involved.  Baltimore City has a program called StepUP!   The program helps create more opportunities for residents to improve their communities.
 

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