BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The Baltimore City Council is introducing a new legislative package in an effort to tackle the city's vacant properties.
It's an issue that has plagued the city for years and partly contributed to a deadly January fire that took the lives of three firefighters and injured a fourth.
The "#HouseBaltimore" legislation package is meant to create more affordable housing utilizing now-vacant housing. The idea is that some vacant houses could be turned into affordable housing. The city has 15,000 vacant properties, the city owns 1,246 of them.
City Council President Nick Mosby said in an announcement Monday the council introduced a second phase of the package tonight.
The second phase includes two bills. One would create a short-term rental assistance program for residents in certain job training or harm reduction programs. The second would make stronger inclusionary housing law for more affordable housing in Baltimore.
In West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, residents are frustrated it has taken so long for leaders to do anything.
"We've weighed in on what we'd like to see here and we've waited," said Eric Stephenson, a six-year resident of the neighborhood. "It seems like there's a sense of apathy among everyone at City Hall, that this is just the way it is, and these problems are insurmountable."
Stephenson said he and his wife brought their formerly-vacant house in 2015.
"We take a lot of pride in it and we work really hard to try and maintain the lots," he said.
Stephenson said he has been waiting for five years for the vacant houses to be demolished. Until then, they're filled with squatters, where fires often start, like one a few doors down from him three weeks ago.
"We've seen fires on this block, in fact, each one of these houses has burned at least once," Stephenson claimed.
Odette Ramos, the councilwoman for the 14th district, said she's frustrated by the lack of action. She's sponsoring the bills.
We still have not made headway on this issue and it is soul-crushing," Ramos said. "We have so many vacants that we could turn into affordable housing."
Stephenson said in the meantime - demolishing vacant houses to make vacant lots still poses problems.
"They can be nuisances with illegal dumping which is a plague in this part of the city - truckloads of garbage that's dumped and hazards like needles," he said. "Something more needs to happen."
Mosby said the city's American Rescue Plan funding could be the path to addressing the vacant properties. He encouraged residents to testify at a quarterly oversight hearing on the distribution of the funds by the City Council's Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 15.
"This historic funding represents a once-in-lifetime opportunity to address the 15,000 vacant properties and expand the city's capacity to equitably meet our residents' many service needs," Mosby said in the announcement.
Mosby could not be immediately reached for comment on this report.
Correction: We reported the city owned 3,000 of the 15,000 vacant buildings. The Baltimore City Housing Department said it is just over 1,200.
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