Baltimore Population Drop Slows As City’s ‘The Wire’ Image May Be Receding

William Selway and Frank Bass, Bloomberg, February 10, 2011

Mike Tsamouras, the owner of a Baltimore bakery, watched his city shrink for five decades, leaving neighborhoods with rows of vacant homes, their marble steps leading to boarded-up doors.

As factory jobs disappeared, so did the people and the merchant stalls that once lined the sidewalk outside the 19th- century Hollins Market, where he works. During the 1970s, the city lost almost 1,000 residents a month as whites rattled by racial tensions moved to the suburbs.

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The exodus, while not over, is slowing, according to 2010 Census data released yesterday. That may be a cause for celebration in a city that’s long struggled to shake a battered image that was showcased in HBO’s television crime drama “The Wire,” a stark portrait of an urban center in decline.

Baltimore’s population fell by 30,193 residents to 620,961 in the past decade, the smallest 10-year decrease since the 1950s, census data show. The 4.6 percent drop followed a 12 percent slide in the 1990s.

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Hispanic Surge

The report on Baltimore’s population comes a week after census data showed that Newark, New Jersey’s biggest city, reversed decades of population declines, as a surge in Hispanic people drove the first gain in 60 years.

An influx of Hispanic residents also bolstered Baltimore’s population. While the number of black residents fell 5.8 percent to 392,938 and whites declined 13.6 percent to 174,120, the Hispanic population more than doubled to 25,960.

After the census report showed the slowing decline, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement citing a 13 percent drop in fatal shootings last year as well as a two straight years of increased enrollment in the city’s public schools, the first back-to-back increase in decades.

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Housing Crisis

The foreclosure crisis has also taken its toll. In 2008, Baltimore unsuccessfully sued Wells Fargo & Co., saying the bank targeted black neighborhoods with deceptive loans. Between 2000 and early 2008, more than 33,000 Baltimore homes had been foreclosed upon, which crimped real-estate tax revenue, the city said in its suit.

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Vacancy Rates

Baltimore’s vacancy rate for housing was 15.8 percent in 2010, up from 14.1 percent a decade ago, according to the census. Baltimore’s was the highest of any major city in Maryland, which had a statewide rate of 9.3 percent, according to the census.

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The Democrat-Gazette further mined Census data yesterday for the finding that white people are no longer a majority of Little Rock’s population. They constitute about 48.9 percent of the city’s some 193,000 residents; blacks account for 42.3 percent. The rest are some racial mix. Presumably many are Latino, though that is not a racial category for Census purposes. More than 13,000 people, or 6.8 percent of the city’s population, said they were of Hispanic or Latino origin.

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There’s plenty of politics to be mined from this, naturally, beginning with a city board that is roughly 33 percent black (three of 10, plus the white mayor.) Ward-only elections would likely change that balance somewhat, a key reason why downtown power brokers have long favored keeping the decisive handful of board seats elected in expensive citywide races, not by wards.

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