City razes block of vacant homes in Berea

A row of abandoned buildings in the 1500 block of North Rose Street were demolished Tuesday as part of the city's ongoing Vacants to Values program. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

A construction vehicle slammed into a Berea rowhouse Tuesday morning, sending bricks crashing to the street below as the structure crumbled. The crushed house was the first as the city began razing a vacant block that neighbors say has been a nuisance for years.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano and other local leaders were present for the demolition in the East Baltimore neighborhood, part of the city's Vacants to Value program.


Residents said the 1500 block of N. Rose St. needed to be wiped out for public health and safety reasons. On Tuesday, piles of garbage spilled out of the homes that weren't boarded shut.

Beatrice Bastiany, president of the Friendly Neighborhood Association, said people have left everything from tires to couches in the street and in the empty rowhouses and that neighbor-led efforts to clean up have been quickly nullified by more littering.

"Sometimes you can't even drive down there because someone wanted to dump their trash, and that makes it look like we don't care," she said. "This is not from our neighbors."

Rawlings-Blake said the leveling of the houses was important for the revitalization of the area near the Fort Worthington Elementary School — though city officials offered no plans for future development of the block.

"I am committed to making safe pathways for our young people to get to and from school," she said. "When you have a row of homes like this, it's not safe."

Nia Redmond — a representative of Fort Worthington Family Jewels, a group of residents who have lived in the area for 50 years or more — said the abandoned street is "spooky" and that removing properties in disrepair will increase home values.

"Tearing this block down is a symbol of us moving in the right direction," she said.

It is unclear what will happen to the block now. Redmond said she would like to see the space used as a garden for sunflowers, which absorb heavy metals in contaminated soil, after which she said it could be used for urban farming.

Rawlings-Blake said that a slogan on Redmond's T-shirt is fitting for Baltimore at this time: "If you're going through Hell, keep going."

"I think it is so poignant for right now because too many of us want to wallow in it and not believe that there's another side to the challenges that we are facing in our city," she said.

"The eyes of the world are on us for many reasons, and Vacants to Value and what we're doing to transform this city is just one of them," she said.

Antoinette Carter, 46, lives next door to a vacant house that will be taken down. Carter, a grandmother, said she would like to see a new community center built there.

"Anything for the children," she said. "Anything to keep them busy from being on the corner selling that stuff."