Baltimore plans to tear down 700 vacant homes with money from mortgage settlement

Baltimore is getting $10 million from the national mortgage settlement, and city officials intend to use almost all of it to demolish vacant homes -- about 700 in total.

That's a snippet in the story about the state attorney general announcing how the state-controlled $60 million from the settlement will be spent. But it's interesting, and I thought you might like to know more.

Julie Day, deputy commissioner for land resources at Baltimore’s housing agency, said city officials have been working on a demolition strategy in the past few months and are delighted to be handed millions of dollars for anti-blight work. They would like to be able to tear down about 4,400 vacant properties in all.

The 700 homes they expect to demolish with the settlement money -- at a cost of about $13,600 apiece -- will be the cheapest targets, requiring little or no wall construction for neighboring homes and no resident relocation. Day said the city has identified about 180 locations that fit the bill, either entire blocks or blocks that already have gaps between vacant and occupied homes.

Demolition costs about $13,000 per home, Day said. Wall construction is actually a bit more expensive all by itself -- $14,000 apiece. And relocation? That gets really pricey.

Day said the cost to relocate owner-occupants can cost as much as $170,000 per case, in order to follow federal law on providing similar homes. Relocating renters can cost about $85,000 per case because the city is required to cover the difference between the original and new rent for five years, she said.

That's why the city is estimating it would take $165 million to tear down all 4,400 homes -- $37,500 apiece.

Why tear down rather than rebuild? Day said officials see the work as "blight elimination" in a city with far fewer residents than it had decades ago, removing brick-and-mortar magnets for rodents, crime and other problems.

"It leaves a sizable cleared green space that will create different opportunities," she said.

If you had $10 million to spend on housing-related work in the city, what would you use it for?

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