Rawlings-Blake announces commitment to expand Vacants to Value program, sets benchmarks

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Tuesday announced an expansion of her signature urban revitalization program, Vacants to Value.

The Baltimore Housing Department has set a goal of tearing down 1,500 vacant properties and renovating another 1,500 in the 36-month period that begins in January, Rawlings-Blake said.

The Clinton Global Initiative designated the ambitious plan as one of its “Commitments to Action,” the mayor said at an event marking the two-year anniversary of Vacants to Value.

“This commitment plans to leverage $26 million of public funding to achieve more than $125 million of additional, strategic urban development investment,” according to Clinton Global Initiative’s assessment of the city’s application. “Baltimore Housing will partner with more than a dozen for-profit and nonprofit developers who will finance and rehabilitate 1,500 vacants.”

Most of the public financing, intended to spur the private rehabilitation of vacant homes, will come from Baltimore’s general fund, Rawlings-Blake said. The city also will allocate $9.25 million from the roughly $10 million the city received as part of a national legal settlement with mortgage servicers, she said.

As part of the three-year plan, Vacants to Value also will partner with a Baltimore-based workforce development nonprofit, Humanim, to “offer construction field work experience … through the deconstruction of vacant housing, and to build the market for salvaged materials reuse regionally,” according to the city’s application to Clinton Global Initiative.

The Clinton Global Initiative was started in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton to foster economic and employment advances. Its “Commitments to Action” are described as a “defining feature,” recognizing goals established by governments, not-for-profit entities and private companies to further economic growth.

Baltimore Housing indicated in its application to the Clinton Global Initiative that the three-year plan for Vacants to Value would “positively affect nearly 18,000 people who either currently reside on blighted blocks that will be impacted by the program, or who will move into homes on blocks where vacants are rehabilitated.”

In the first six months of the commitment period, January through June of next year, Baltimore Housing plans to develop at least two new partnerships with “capitalized developers who will rehabilitate additional whole-block areas,” procure about $10 million in new private investment for vacant rehabs and, among other goals, file 150 new receivership cases against negligent property owners, Clinton Global Initiative documents said.

In 2013, the city’s goal is to demolish 500 vacant buildings, according to Clinton Global Initiative documents. In 2014, the goal is to take down 650 blighted properties. And in 2015, the last year of the commitment, another 350 will be taken down.

The Clinton Global Initiative meets annually to share ideas that have been generated through commitments like the one Baltimore Housing has made. City officials expect to attend the meeting in June.

“We’re not done, and we have a lot of work to do, but we are committed to making our communities stronger,” Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said. 

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