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'Fix Them Up': Residents Demanding Action On Almost 15,000 Vacant Homes In Baltimore As City Tries To Curb Violence

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- On Mother's Day, firefighters rushed to Southeast Baltimore's Carrollton Ridge neighborhood and found a rowhome engulfed in flames at 325 Furrow Street.

Inside, they discovered 35-year-old Miguel Diaz, who had been shot to death. A source told WJZ the owner was dealing with squatters. Here is video as firefighters first arrived on the scene:

The blighted home is one of many in a neighborhood people here feel is forgotten.

"When we came out, [the fire] was gushing so bad. It was so fast. It was crazy," said Chaunsey Adams who lives on the block. "I saw when they brought him out. It was terrible."

Despite the grisly violence and problems that plague this community, Adams sees promise among the almost 800 vacant homes in Carrollton Ridge.

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Alley behind S. Bentalou Street in Carrollton Ridge; photo by Mike Hellgren
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Open Baltimore map showing vacant homes in Carrollton Ridge

Adams has not only renovated a home on Furrow Street, but also is rehabbing several more on the next block with his business partner, Roy Rogers.

"There's so much opportunity here," Rogers said. "What's wrong with y'all…all these houses are vacant. Buy them. Fix them up. If you don't buy them, live in them."

They gave WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren a tour of one rowhouse they have gutted and are turning into a small assisted living facility.

But what they said they are not getting is help from the city, where leaders have allowed homes to decay for years.

"It's not going to be this way forever. They've got to do something about it," Adams told Hellgren. "Where is the help? I try to apply for grants—still waiting. Where's the help for investors who want to open up business in your community?" Rogers asked.

Both see the connection between vacants, the lack of investment and opportunity, and the violence plaguing Carrollton Ridge, which has seen more than a dozen shootings since the start of the year.

Rogers called it "a chain reaction, a domino effect."

Hellgren spoke to Shantay Jackson, who heads the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE). She was canvassing part of South Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood with the mayor Thursday. A half mile away on Audrey Avenue, two men were shot to death last month on a block that has many vacants.

Hellgren asked Jackson if vacants are tied to crime.

"Point blank we know that it does," Jackson said. She told WJZ the city is taking a holistic approach and making sure neighborhoods are healthy "whether that is cleaning and greening lots or removing vacant buildings… installing proper lighting."

"I am empathetic to those folks. The street that I grew up on in West Baltimore is now a half-occupied street. My aunt, my family still lives there and some other homes are vacant on that street, so I can absolutely empathize with the feelings of being forgotten. Not until the Scott Administration did we see this level of investment in our communities," Jackson said.

There are almost 15 thousand vacant homes across Baltimore.

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Open Baltimore map showing vacant homes in Baltimore City

"We're going to do everything that we can do in our power—working with our partners, working with our private partners… We're going to go at these vacant homes consistently with every angle that we can," Mayor Brandon Scott said Thursday.

He noted millions have been spent on the problem and there are efforts to move cases involving vacants through the court system at a faster pace on a separate docket.

"It's not just focusing on the buildings themselves but focusing on the community—building people up not just in a physical sense but building better people too," Scott said.

Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy told Hellgren the number of vacant homes is slowly going down.

"This is a start and we know this is where we are building off of, and we have a lot of tools in our toolbox. Part of it is money, but also part of it is staffing—the staff that we have, the expertise that we bring to the table," Kennedy said. "As of yesterday, we were at 14,751 vacants in the city of Baltimore. That is the longest sustained time period below 15,000 that we have seen in decades."

Back in Carrollton Ridge, business partners Adams and Rogers can look past the boarded-up homes and see opportunity. They hope city leaders can too. "Why make it so hard to buy….you'd rather squatters go in and burn it down?" Rogers said.

The housing commissioner said she wants to help. "I'll probably head over there later this afternoon to try to find them and talk to them myself. I want to share with them what resources we do have. There are grants available typically for non-profit organizations that are in the development space, and we are looking at 'impact investment areas.' Part of the $39 million American Rescue Plan announcement and investment will be for developer incentives to help cover those costs of development to close that appraisal gap where the cost of construction is greater than the appraised or market value for those properties. So, we will have funds available and new funds coming online."


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