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by Mark Reutter4:11 pmFeb 29, 20240

Baltimore HCD proposes to sell vacant properties for $1 under certain conditions

Developers would pay $3,000, but individuals willing to rehab a vacant and live there for five years would be charged only a buck

Above: Vacants on the 1300 block of West North Avenue. (Louis Krauss)

In an effort to end protracted negotiations over often minuscule price differences, the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development wants to fix the sales price for city-owned vacant properties.

For a developer, a vacant house would go for a standard $3,000.

For a nonprofit, the price would be $1,000.

But for an individual or community land trust, the price would drop to $1.

The pricing schedule, to be submitted to the Board of Estimates next week, is reminiscent of the Dollar House Program of the 1970s, which was credited with spurring the revival of fells Point, Otterbein, Canton and other waterside neighborhoods.

But unlike those efforts, which came after hundreds of houses were condemned for a highway that was never built, the new plan is aimed mostly at reducing red tape.

Fixed prices would end costly appraisals and back-and-forth wrangling that HCD says can take a year to settle and allow for better online advertising to potential buyers.

A number of special criteria will be applied to the dollar sales, including:

• Only vacants in “stressed neighborhoods,” as described in the city’s market topology map, would be eligible.

This would include properties in west, east, southwest and far south Baltimore, but exclude the “white L” that runs north-south between the Jones Falls Expressway and Greenmount Avenue and then southeast along the harborfront.

• Vacant properties assessed at $100,000 or more would be excluded and undergo an “informal review and valuation” before a price is set.

• Individuals buying a dollar house must rehab and live in the property for at least five years. If sold before then, the owner would “pay a pro-rated portion of $3,000 calculated on the year that the property is sold.”

• All buyers, including developers and nonprofits, must agree to convert the vacants to residential or mixed use within 12 months of settlement.

Drop in the Bucket

If successful, the new program would still only make a dent in Baltimore’s vast array of vacant and abandoned structures, an outgrowth of a 330,000 population loss over the last 50 years.

Officially, as of February 2022, there were 14,989 vacant properties, only 1,245 of them owned by the city.

Additionally, there were more than 20,000 vacant lots (once occupied by buildings) and thousands more standing houses adversely impacted by being next to or near unsafe, unsanitary and uninhabitable properties.

HCD proposes to sell vacant lots owned by the city for $1,000 to developers, $500 to nonprofits and $1 to individuals and land trusts that agree to rehab the lots for residential, mixed or green-space use.

In December, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a 15-year, $3 billion “roadmap” to redevelop 37,000 vacant and dilapidated houses and “solve this crisis once and for all.”

Other than saying that the city would use tax increment bonds, revive a long-dormant industrial authority and count on hundreds of millions of un-allocated state funds, little else has emerged about how the Scott plan would work.

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