Category: Stories

City-Owned Historic Blight: 1326 Druid Hill Avenue

Property Address: 1326 Druid Hill Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217

Property Owner: Mayor and City Council, 417 E Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

City Council District and Contact: District 11, Eric T. Costello

State Senator: Shirley Nathan-Pulliam

State Delegate:  Keith Haynes

Yet another Upton home going to waste, this time at the hands of the City. In this home lived the first African-American member of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ Association, Local 155. Mr. David Leigh was granted membership in 1940, after trying for several years. An article about his acceptance into the union was published in The Afro-American.

The home is available through Vacants to Value, however — the home immediately next to it is not, and it’s in even worse shape. Hard to imagine anyone buying it and doing any sort of quality work on the home when it’s in danger of whatever happens to the property next door.

1326 Druid Hill Avenue

1326 Druid Hill Avenue

Because we all need a little more poetry in our lives…

The House with Nobody in It: Joyce Kilmer

Abandoned home, Baltimore County, 2013

Abandoned home, Baltimore County, 2013

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn’t haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn’t be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I’d put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I’d buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I’d find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there’s nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.

Six Years Today!

Six years ago today I started a little project…something to keep me busy and focused after being laid off from my job. I had no idea how long the project would last, and I had no idea where it would take me — but I was compelled to push forward. I remember there were days during that first few months — I didn’t even have the money to take the bus across town…so I would walk. And walk. And walk. East side to west, and back again.

Fast forward six years and I’m still at it. Slow and steady progress has been made, thanks to all of you!  The project continues to move in different directions, but the goal remains the same: my commitment to making sure our residents have the ability to make their neighborhoods safer and stronger, and the ability to feel a sense of ownership and pride in those changes. Nor will that ever continue. This is your city, folks — let’s keep making Baltimore stronger and better, one vacant at a time. Together.

Thank you all so very much for your support, your help, and your kindness. I look forward to another six years of success, accomplishments, laughs, and hijinks.


Carol Ott

What’s Your 2015 Housing Resolution?

Reposted from Housing Policy Watch:

People make much of the idea of “two cities” in Baltimore — one, affluent and white, and the other is usually labeled as poor and black. This view leaves out the third group: the folks, black and white, who earn around the city’s median income of $40,000 or so, and have solid potential to be upwardly mobile over the long term. You know — the working families who don’t consider themselves rich or poor, just…somewhere in the middle trying to get by. They don’t qualify for housing assistance, and even if they did — they probably wouldn’t apply (who has the time to hold down a full-time job, run a household, raise kids or take care of elderly parents or an ailing spouse, and commit to the arduous process of applying for social services?), and there isn’t a whole lot of moderate-income housing for them anyway.

It’s not like I’m saying anything I haven’t said a million times before, and won’t keep saying  — but I have to wonder why, in a city with so much potential safe and affordable housing — we have so little of it.

One of the reasons is the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is the agency in charge of setting what they deem a “Fair Market Rent (FMR) for every Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Our MSA includes Towson, Columbia, and all the other wealthy suburbs in between. The idea is to set the FMR at a level that would allow low- and very low-income renters who receive Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers to move from their neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into areas of prosperity (and higher rents). This is problematic on multiple levels:

  • Most poor people, through either a lack of means or a desire to stay near jobs, family, and other support systems, don’t actually move far away if at all. It’s hard to leave family support and friends, particularly if a low-income family relies on family and friends for childcare and/or transportation. Also, many wealthier suburbs (and even wealthier city neighborhoods) don’t have adequate or reliable public transit, making it hard for low-income families to access jobs, childcare, doctors, or shopping.
  • Because the FMR is based on a geographic area that includes wealthier suburbs, the FMR is unreasonably high in many of our moderate- and low-income neighborhoods. To ask someone earning the median, or just on either side of the median, to pay $1250 a month (approximate FMR for a two-bedroom house or apartment in the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson MSA) without housing assistance in many of our neighborhoods drives out the stabilizing force that moderate-income working families bring. It also drives away their current and future tax dollars, and consumer spending.

Many of our city’s neighborhoods, despite news and other reports to the contrary, are either stagnating, or they’re becoming even more concentrated areas of poverty, as more prosperous neighborhoods receive development projects and other attention from the State and City governments. (See concentrated poverty map again, to reiterate this point.) Oftentimes, this is due to investors snapping up cheap and foreclosed homes to flip and turn into Section 8 rentals. In Pigtown, one LLC flipped one block of homes to another LLC, for around $19,000 each, further destabilizing home prices. Inexplicably, one of the homes is now on the market for $174,000, when many homes on surrounding streets are on the market for far less. How long before this block of homes is turned into Section 8 rentals, if they don’t sell? Turning them into rentals those with moderate incomes could afford would be the better course of action — it would add stability to a floundering neighborhood, and could potentially raise property values as these renters turn into buyers.

From a 2003 National Housing Institute/Shelterforce article:

During the past decade, speculators saw an opportunity in Patterson Park – and in the loopholes of the voucher program. They found they could snap up vacant rowhouses for as little as $10,000, give them a fresh coat of paint, pass Section 8 inspection, and start to rake in vouchers worth $700 a month, much more than the rentals would be worth on the private market. As groups of out-of-town investors got in on the deal, Section 8 families flooded into as many as 700 of Patterson Park’s rowhouses. The neighborhood became visibly poorer and shabbier as the landlords ignored maintenance. “The people buying here were not experienced property managers,” Rutkowski says. “They were accountants and lawyers in the suburbs.”

While Patterson Park has improved considerably since 2003, it still struggles with investor-owned low-income housing. Something that could have alleviated current and past problems — mixed-income housing, and the stability that moderate-income earners bring to the table.

Some encouraging news was reported in this morning’s Baltimore Sun: One development near the biopark in West Baltimore will have 20% of its planned units set aside for moderate- and low-income tenants. Whether this plan comes to fruition or not — that remains to be seen.

Making affordable housing for working families a top priority of City and State government needs to happen. Our city cannot afford to be divided in three — it needs to come together to find real solutions that aren’t tied to nice-sounding theories and campaign contributions. Solid investments in our neighborhoods, a commitment to making Baltimore a liveable city, and reworking of HUD’s FMR would be a great start. Let’s make this happen in 2015 — together.

Jackson, MS Now Has a Slumlord Watch!

Jeff Karer of Jackson left this lovely comment on our Facebook and I thought it would be nice to share it — it’s so nice to hear from people in other cities who are documenting blight and holding their governments and negligent property owners accountable!

BSW, because of your site, which I stumbled upon who knows how, I am having a blast documenting terrible things going on in my neighborhood of Fondren in Jackson,MS. I’ve documented 23 blighted houses along with owners’ names; so far three are surrounded by fences in prep for demo, and a dozen more are being investigated. Plus, I found two empty houses claiming HE, had 28 street lights illuminated and even have the utility company inthe process of eradicating graffiti on their poles…and even had the city replace a few stop signs with gang markings. You inspired all this. I just don’t think anyone bothered…all it took was one person to care. Could have been anyone. Thanks BSW!

What are you doing to combat blight in your city? Let us know!

Beauty in the Most Unexpected Places

Today I was walking around West Baltimore with a reporter from WAMU, a NPR affiliate in DC.  I was showing him around, talking about housing policy and a million other topics…when we turned a corner…and happened upon these homes:

Mosaic House 1

Mosaic House 1

Mosaic House 2

Mosaic House 2

Each home is covered in literally thousands of pieces of stained glass and mirror.  From the sidewalk to the roof, including the windows and doors. At first it struck me as odd — why would someone stick glass and mirror all over two rowhomes?

But then on closer examination, I saw that not only did someone do this — but that each piece was cut and intentionally placed.

Detail of cut glass and mirror

Detail of cut glass and mirror

More detail of the mosaic

More detail of the mosaic

This had to have taken an incredible amount of time — and patience.  Thanks to Julie Scharper at the Sun, the mystery of the mosaic houses was quickly solved.  They’re the work of a local artist, Loring Cornish, whose work is shown at the American Visionary Art Museum here in Baltimore. Baltimore Brew profiled Mr. Cornish and his work in 2010.

One of the things I love about Baltimore is the fact that no matter where you are in the city, you can turn a corner and see something random.  Perhaps of incredible beauty. It’s another indication that this is indeed a city worth fighting for. Thank you, Mr. Cornish!