Baltimore County officials will try to count how many vacant and blighted structures are in the county for the first time in the hopes of rehabilitating them and turning them into livable homes.
Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. also said at a Thursday news conference that he would introduce legislation next week before the County Council aimed at expanding housing.
“For too long, we simply have not had the tools we need to effectively eliminate blight in our communities,” he said. “In fact, right now, the county currently has no way to designate a property is vacant. These overdue changes will empower us to begin the work of transforming vacant and abandoned sites into the rental and homeownership opportunities of the future.”
Included in his legislation is a bill that would define a vacant home as an uninhabited or abandoned structure, according to a copy of the text provided to The Baltimore Sun.
A vacant home has “cease[d] to be used as a place of human habitation or for living purposes,” according to the bill. Other factors to consider in determining a home’s status would be whether it has accumulated mail, disconnected utilities, lack of “observable furniture or personal affects,” boarded-up or missing doors and windows, damage or decay, and whether there are any liens, code enforcement issues or complaints associated with the property.
The county’s director of permits, approvals and inspections would be required to maintain a list of blighted structures and notify owners that their properties have been designated as such.
The county does not know how many blighted or vacant properties there are in its boundaries, Olszewski said.
“It could be in the hundreds, if not thousands,” he said.
Baltimore City has long struggled to rehabilitate and keep up to date its list of 15,000 vacant homes, some of which attract crime or suffered from natural disasters, and the boarded-up structures have become a symbol of the city’s poverty.
Included with the Olszewski administration’s vacant homes bill are three others aimed at expanding housing opportunities in the county, which is under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build 1,000 affordable housing units by 2027. Olszewski said last month during his second inauguration speech that the county was on track to meet that goal.
The county would also establish a housing opportunities fund using $16 million in federal COVID-relief funds to finance new and existing housing and assist tenants and homeowners with housing expenses; lower the minimum lot size requirement for building townhomes, and amend zoning rules for accessory dwelling units, under the proposals.