Baltimore housing over the decade: less affordable, more likely to be fixed up

Rough economy notwithstanding, more Baltimore homes were getting face lifts at the end of the last decade than the start.

That's one of the bits of intel from the newest Vital Signs, an ongoing effort by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore to shine a light on how the city is changing. Statistics range from crime rates to employment rates. (City residents -- pick your neighborhood from the Vital Signs map, and you can see where things stand near you.)

About those housing face lifts: About 2.5 percent of city homes had interior or exterior work topping $5,000 in 2010, more than double the share in 2001, according to Vital Signs.

That's way down from the peak in 2007 -- when 4.6 percent of homes were getting significant work done to them in a delayed reaction to the housing bubble -- but it's surprisingly neck-and-neck with the prime bubble years. About 2 percent of the city's housing stock was being rehabbed in 2004, and about 2.8 percent in 2005.

Ironically enough, however, more of the city's housing stock is vacant and abandoned now than before, or at least officially identified that way. Vital Signs says 7.9 percent of city homes were so designated by the city's housing agency in 2010, up from 5.3 percent in 2001.

Other noteworthy findings:

Housing costs are stressing more city residents.

A common rule is thumb is to avoid paying more than 30 percent of your (pre-tax) income on housing. But 40 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were in that category in the last five years of the decade, up from 32 percent of homeowners in 2000.

And renters? More than half -- 53 percent -- were in the over-stressed category. That's up from 40 percent in 2000.

Foreclosures were up, down, up during the decade.

It might come as a surprise, but the share of city homes whose lenders were trying to foreclose was higher in 2000 than it was in either 2008 or 2010. Only 2009 topped the beginning of the decade, with foreclosure filings on 3 percent of homes compared with 2.5 percent in 2000.

Baltimore's struggle in the late '90s and early part of the 2000s? Flipping -- the illegal kind, with mortgage fraud. First-timers and other buyers purchased homes that looked fixed up, only to discover that they'd overpaid for properties in lousy shape. The selling schemes often relied on inflated appraisals and falsified mortgage docs.

The rest of the country has been getting a taste of that pain for the past few years.

Other tidbits: fewer owner-occupied homes, more racial diversity and fluctuating numbers of neighborhood associations and block clubs

What's changed in your neighborhood since you moved in?

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