The city spends an average of $13,000 to demolish a vacant house.

For owner-occupied homes in blocks that are mostly vacant and targeted for demolition, Graziano said the city pays property owners fair-market value for the house and buys them a comparable house anywhere of their choosing. If the homeowner had a mortgage on the original property, a mortgage of the same amount will be transferred to the new house.

Dislocated renters get housing vouchers and work with counselors to find new accommodations. If the family can't find a place to lease for the same amount, the city will pay the difference in rent for 60 months.

About 80 individuals will be relocated this year.

Archana Sharma, an assistant professor in Morgan State University's School of Architecture and Planning, said any successful urban renewal project must address the fact that blighted neighborhoods aren't only a result of vacant homes, but a host of social, cultural, economic and education conditions.

Sharma said to get it right, the city should find a way to empower the communities by providing outlets for youths, more jobs and ways for residents to participate in the recovery. City planners should incorporate tree plantings and avenues for biking and walking, the installation of solar roofs on vacant housing and skate parks open to graffiti artists inside urban farms, she said.

"Remember, we do not have to be another Detroit; we just have to be a rejuvenated Baltimore," Sharma said.

Once the houses are torn down, Graziano said the city will convert the land into green space, some open with trees, others with playgrounds for children while individuals can convert lots into urban farms.

The land will remain under city ownership and undeveloped until an investor proposes a plan for a new use, Graziano said.

"We know the areas that have significant amounts of vacant and abandoned housing and blight suffer from tremendous social ills and the people who live there are subject to higher crime rates, children having to walk past vacant and blighted properties to get to school," Graziano said. "What we're trying to do is always enhance the quality of life in a community."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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