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Baltimore City Continues To Grapple With Vacant House Problem

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Newly sworn-in Baltimore Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy said a vacant house at the center of a deadly fire and federal investigation is a sign of a larger problem in the city.

The vacant house in the 200 block of South Stricker Street was the site of a fire on Monday that killed firefighters Lt. Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler and Kenny Lacayo, and injured firefighter John McMaster. It is one of more than 15,000 vacant houses in Baltimore.

That house is privately owned—just like more than 90% of the vacant houses in Baltimore. Unfortunately, there are many funding and legal barriers that stand in the way of reducing the number of those houses.

Kennedy said she understands the urgency to address that problem.

"We've been undergoing receiverships," she said. "We've been undergoing tax sale foreclosures. We've been undergoing relocations. Unfortunately, we had not made it to this block as part of that." 

Part of that work—turning vacant homes into livable homes—was highlighted Wednesday morning with the announcement of a $20 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase to invest in the redevelopment of West Baltimore.

"These spaces are sacred," Bree Jones, CEO of Parity Homes, said. "They are valuable. And they are worth redeeming."

Parity Homes will receive $2 million with the goal of creating 200 Black and Latina homeowners in West Baltimore.

"Despite their boarded-up windows and broken glass . . . these neighborhoods are intrinsically valuable even when bank appraisals say these homes are worth less than the cost to build them," Jones said.

Mayor Brandon Scott said on Wednesday that resources are needed to hold property owners responsible.

"We have to figure out how to more rapidly have these things go through the system and the court system and how we can hold these owners of these properties more responsible," Scott said.

WJZ learned on Wednesday that people had made four 311 requests within the past year regarding the condition of the house on South Stricker Street where three firefighters were killed. Three of those requests were from city employees concerned about sanitation, rats, and high grass.

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