By Larry Perl, firstname.lastname@example.org
3:31 PM EDT, April 23, 2013
"Usually, this is a pretty quiet block," said Remington resident Kitten Woody, sitting on her stoop at 2602 Miles Ave., and watching two different commotions across the street Tuesday morning.
Directly across the street from her, Baltimore City Housing was demolishing an unsafe corner rowhouse that city officials and residents were afraid would collapse.
Minutes earlier, a city police SWAT team had stormed a rowhouse up the street at 2615 Miles Ave. Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper, commander of the Northern District, said later the drug-related raid was a joint operation of the city police district and the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.
"I was thinking there must be someone on the block who didn't want the demolition," said Andre Stone, a nearby resident and real estate manager for the Greater Homewood Community Corp.
Police appeared suddenly as city officials were getting ready to hold a press conference before razing the house at the corner of Miles and Huntingdon avenues as part of the city's Vacants to Value initiative to improve housing stock. It appeared that police and city housing officials did not know of each other's plans before police moved in without warning and ordered everyone off the block.
"Crime never plans, and we did not check in with crime this morning," said Cheron Porter, a Housing Department spokeswoman.
For many residents, community leaders, housing officials and Baltimore City Council members who came to the demolition, the two events were linked symbolically.
"When we take down the vacant houses, it cuts down on (crime-related) stuff like that," said Julie Day, the deputy housing commissioner for land resources.
Ryan Flanigan, 26, an upholsterer who lives in the 2600 block of Miles Avenue, said residents have been trying to get the city to address crime and housing problems on their street for years.
"We call and call and call — and all of a sudden, everything happens all at once," Flanigan said. "In one day we get the cops, the politicians and the demolition."
"After a little excitement that wasn't planned, we're here," said Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano, starting the press conference. He said that despite the police raid, "This is obviously a very viable block."
The city's first priority is to rehab abandoned, dilapidated, city-owned houses and sell them for reduced prices to people who otherwise couldn't afford to buy a house, said Deputy Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman. But in this case officials deemed that the house at 2605 Miles, which had cracks in its exterior and no roof, could not be salvaged, Braverman said.
Judith Kunst, president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, agreed with that assessment.
"We were afraid it would collapse," said Kunst, who pushed for the demolition of the house. She got to ride as a ceremonial passenger in the excavator that bulldozed the house.
A house next door at 2607 Miles is also in bad shape, but is privately owned and occupied, housing officials said. The house next door to that, at 2609 Miles, is owned by the city and is on the market for $4,500, they said. Several other houses on the block are also being sold as part of the Vacant to Value program, they said.
The Vacants to Value program, started by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2010, encourages re-investment in blighted neighborhoods by strengthening code enforcement, promoting rehabilitation of abandoned properties, streamlining the sales process, and giving home buyers and developers financial incentives to invest in houses, city officials said.
Braverman said the city will step up code enforcement in the 2600 block of Miles Avenue, and if owners, at least one of whom is a landlord of several houses, don't comply, the city will go to court to take receivership of them, and then sell them at public auction.
As for the lot that the demolished house sat on, it will be used to expand a community garden that fronts Huntingdon Avenue.
No one was more excited to see the demolition than Flanigan, who has adopted the community garden on behalf of the neighborhood.
"Hell, yeah," he shouted and took pictures as the house came tumbling down in sections.