December 5, 2013 by Baltimore Slumlord Watch
A very curious thing happened this morning and I thought it might be worth sharing, if you hadn’t already seen it on Twitter.
I read a random link posted by the Afro, a local paper that’s been in Baltimore forever, about a fire that wiped out a family’s home in the 2800 block of Boarman Avenue. The fire, according to the article, started in a City-owned vacant. The reporter claimed to get the information from a fire inspector’s report. So far, so good. I tweeted to the Mayor that I felt it was shameful the City wasn’t doing more to help the family — in fact, I thought (and still think) the City should repair the home instead of having the family take out a loan for the repairs (the family, unfortunately, did not have homeowner’s insurance). I also sent an email to Sharon Green-Middleton, the councilwoman for the district, saying basically the same thing — that it’s shameful behavior on the part of Baltimore City.
Not two or three minutes later, I received a voice mail from Deputy Commissioner Reginald Scriber from Baltimore Housing — could I please call him back about this…so I did. For the next 20 minutes or so, Deputy Commissioner Scriber proceeded to tell me the fire did not, in fact, start in the City-owned vacant, that it started in a woodpile behind the homeowner’s house. He then went on to say that if the fire had started in a City-owned property, he would encourage the homeowner to go to the Law Department to see what could be done to remedy the situation. He seemed to be quite puzzled as to why the Afro would report such a thing, considering it wasn’t true — and I have to admit — I wondered the same, but…
A healthy dose of skepticism made me send an email to the BCFD Public Information Office to see if they could clear up this matter once and for all. Seems to me, there’s no grey area here, right? Either the fire started here or the fire started there.
Ian Brennan, Chief Public Information Officer for the city’s fire department quickly responded and sent a copy of the report, which is public record. (Link opens a PDF) The fire, it would seem, did indeed start in the City-owned vacant. A homeless man had moved into the “summer kitchen” of the vacant, and “ignited the surrounding paper products/clothing” nearby.
I then went back to Twitter to express my displeasure with Deputy Commissioner Scriber’s…error, shall we say…and received yet another voice mail from him that basically says oh yes I was wrong about what I said earlier, yeah sorry.
So back to my original ire about the situation, shoving aside my additional ire about being led down a rabbit hole by Deputy Commissioner Scriber — is the City going to make the repairs to this family’s home, or pay for the repairs? Or is the City, as it is wont to do a lot of the time, shrug off any responsibility for their vacant blighted property?
(As an aside, I would like to thank Councilwoman Middleton-Green for her responsiveness, and also Ian Brennan from the BCFD.)