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by Mark Reutter12:06 pmMar 5, 20240

Ramos calls on Mayor Scott to delay plan to sell vacant houses for as little as $1

The plan to dispose of vacant houses – up for Board of Estimates approval tomorrow – lacks detail and could have negative outcomes, councilwoman says

Above: Vacant houses on the 1100 block of West Saratoga Street in Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood (Fern Shen)

The City Council’s top housing advocate, Odette Ramos, is calling on Mayor Brandon Scott to delay a vote on a plan to sell vacant houses for as low as $1.

The proposal, disclosed last week by The Brew, would streamline the sale of city-owned vacants by setting fixed prices for sale, ranging from $3,000 for developers and $1,000 for nonprofits to $1 for individuals and community land trusts.

While potentially worthy in some respects, the policy was not properly vetted or explained to community groups and could have negative unintended consequences, Ramos said.

She today called on Scott to withdraw the item from tomorrow’s Board of Estimates agenda.

The mayor’s office has not yet responded to Ramos and has not answered questions from The Brew.

City Council President Nick Mosby, president of the BOE, also opposes the disposition policy, but Scott holds the majority vote on the panel.

In an email sent yesterday to Housing and Community Development Commissioner Alice Kennedy, Ramos said the agency’s move to sell off vacants individually could undercut the “whole block approach” to rehabilitating distressed housing.

Scott championed that approach in the $3 billion plan he recently announced that, he says, could place a minimum of 37,500 vacant buildings back on the market over 15 years and end the vacant housing crisis “once and for all.”

Baltimore City Councilwoman Odette Ramos. (Zoom)

Baltimore City Councilwoman Odette Ramos. (Zoom)

Significant Concerns

“Disposing one house in the middle of the block of vacant properties that have yet to be acquired [by the city] disadvantages the purchaser and is a policy most of the City Council opposed two years ago,” Ramos told Kennedy.

”This policy is brand new,” she continued, “and while intended to dispose of properties quickly, there are some significant concerns.”

They included not listing equity as a consideration, not prioritizing city buyers and not placing restrictions on sketchy developers and LLCs that do not list investors or provide proof of financial resources.

“420 vacant and abandoned properties were once owned by the city and have since been sold one to five times. These properties are still vacant and abandoned”  – Odette Ramos.

DHCD, which owns only about 1,245 of the 15,000 vacant houses and 20,000 vacant lots citywide, says it will require buyers to rehabilitate the empty buildings into residential or mixed-use properties within a set time frame.

Individuals seeking vacants for $1 would have to rehab the building within a year of settlement and live there for five years or else pay a nominal penalty.

But without low-interest loans and other support programs, Ramos says renters and others would have neither the capital nor the experience to fix an empty, dilapidated vacant, which could easily cost $150,000 or more to make habitable.

“Since the 1990s, 420 vacant and abandoned properties were once owned by the city and have since been sold one to five times. All of these properties are still vacant and abandoned,” she noted.

Later today, the Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee, chaired by Sharon Green Middleton, is scheduled to hear more about the vacant house program from DHCD.

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