Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger, Baltimore Sun, January 5, 2016
Calling Baltimore’s abandoned rowhouses “hotbeds for crime,” Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced a nearly $700 million plan to tear down thousands of vacant buildings and replace them with new developments–a level of investment in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods some say is unprecedented.
In Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray grew up, the governor joined Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in pledging $94 million over four years to demolish 4,000 vacant properties citywide and $600 million in subsidies to encourage redevelopment.
The money–most of which will come from the state–will allow a fourfold increase in the demolition of vacant city properties, followed by major new funding to rebuild.
The announcement took place in the 1000 block of N. Stricker Street, where demolition began just minutes after the news conference ended. Gray lived and was arrested in the neighborhood.
His death in April sparked weeks of protests and a day of rioting, and drew national attention to conditions in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Baltimore, with a population of more than 622,000, has about 16,000 vacant buildings and 14,000 vacant lots, according to city figures.
Ray Kelly, a community builder with the No Boundaries Coalition in Sandtown-Winchester, said the demolition needs to be accompanied by a strategy to deal with unintended consequences. Razing blight, he said, could scatter drug dealers into surrounding neighborhood streets. Police will need to be ready to respond by increasing patrols, he said.
Kelly said he is also worried that the well-intended plan could turn into “just another gentrification initiative.” While optimistic, Kelly said he wants officials to work closely with residents. “Is there a program or a plan in place for the people who have lived in the community, and struggled through the blight, so that they can afford these new properties?”