Plan would reclaim vacant blocks

The Baltimore Sun

City Council president candidate Michael Sarbanes proposed a neighborhood revitalization program yesterday that would use congregations to reclaim abandoned properties around their churches.

Dubbed "Dollar Houses for Safe Streets," the proposal would have the city acquire and then sell its vacant properties for a dollar or reduced prices to nonprofit entities working with religious congregations, or to people willing to fix and maintain them and live there.

A $100 million bond issue would finance the program, said Sarbanes.

"To reclaim our blocks in the city, we need to tie into the power of congregations," said Sarbanes, standing outside Rehoboth Church of God in Christ in West Baltimore yesterday afternoon.

"We have around us congregations that want to change the blocks where they are, and we have vacant houses on the blocks around those congregations," he continued. "And if each congregation that wants to do it could work with the city to get a house or houses to either make a safety house ... or if congregations have people that want to actually move into the block and change it, we should be about the business of acquiring those vacant houses, getting them fixed up and making that possible."

Sarbanes - who served as the executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and is the son of retired U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes - is among four candidates running in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary for City Council president.

He faces current City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, City Councilman Kenneth J. Harris Sr., and Charles Ulysses Smith.

Sarbanes and Rawlings-Blake were in a virtual tie, with many voters undecided, according to a poll conducted for The Sun last month.

Luke Clippinger, a spokesman for the Rawlings-Blake campaign, said yesterday: "The council president has been working on this issue in her eight months as council president and even before that time."

He pointed to her work on the council in establishing and funding of the Healthy Neighborhoods initiative, which assists communities in danger of falling into blight, and her support of using the affordable housing offset fund to purchase and rehabilitate vacant housing.

Harris said Sarbanes' plan "sounds like a good concept" but noted that the city's previous programs to acquire and sell vacant properties experienced delays in acquisitions and turnover.

"We need to know what kind of time frames we are talking about," he said. "We don't want to have these properties sitting there for 15 to 20 years."


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