The block has been a relatively quiet spot in the midst of a violent neighborhood.

Four people have been fatally shot this year in a two-block radius. Crimes committed a block to the north include two acts of shoplifting, a purse snatching, an armed robbery, an assault with a gun and two car thefts.

But police report few crimes on the 800 block of N. Caroline. "It's just not one of those areas that has been a great concern to us," said Maj. Melvin Russell, who commands the Eastern District.

Russell said while vacant rowhouses tend to breed crime, the fact they're empty offers up fewer potential victims. He also pointed to the elderly housing across the street. "The seniors are pretty watchful," Russell said. "They hang out in the court."

The major said no drug groups or gangs have claimed that stretch of North Caroline. "There's nothing really entrenched there," he said, though crime stats show the corners on the periphery to be busy in terms of police calls for trouble.

Data on 911 calls provided by city police going back to January show one family disturbance, two robberies (one armed, one unarmed), a car theft, a disorderly and four drug complaints.

Russell said his officers reported that the boards on the vacant Caroline Street rowhouses appeared secure a few days before the girl was attacked.

The Department of Public Works uses only plywood for boarding, spokeswoman Cathy Powell said, unlike the public housing authority, which uses cinder block as well. Powell said plywood's advantage is that it's easier for police or firefighters to remove in an emergency.

Keith French, a partner in Kona Properties LLC, which acquired 825 N. Caroline from the city last year, said the company is "vigilant" about trying to keep its properties secure. The company owns 44 vacant houses that as of July had been deemed unsafe or uninhabitable, city records show. Many are what French called "development projects waiting to happen."

"We're constantly going behind people and reboarding, [fixing] broken windows, trying to keep properties in a state where people can't get into them," French said.

"This is a tragedy," French said of the rape. But he said he doesn't think the house was sitting wide-open — a view buttressed by police accounts. "We're on those type of things," he said, speculating that the assailant might have removed the plywood board and been lying in wait.

French said construction on the block would start soon to bring the homes back into use as affordable housing. Kona Properties acquired four houses there as part of a larger property swap with the city. Last month it applied for construction permits at two. A permit for 825 was issued Thursday, and one for 827 is ready to be issued, Porter said.

Michael Braverman, deputy housing commissioner, said he is optimistic about the block's future, based on Kona's planned improvements and other changes, including rehabs now under way on two houses owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

"This thing only works if you can assure whole block renovations," Braverman said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

scott.calvert@baltsun.com



Number of vacant houses boarded by city crews



2011: 5,236

2010: 5,772

2009: 4,610

2008: 6,632

2007: 6,617

2006: 6,166

2005: 4,567

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