The Sun recently reported that the city Housing Department plans to spend $22.5 million, including almost all the $10 million the city will receive from the National Mortgage Settlement, to demolish some 1,600 vacant and dilapidated row houses over the next three years ("City to raze hundreds of houses in stepped-up plan," Aug. 16).
I support the goals of demolishing blighted, dangerous structures and replacing them with green spaces that spur redevelopment in city neighborhoods. However, I am concerned that none of the city's money from the mortgage settlement is actually going to help Baltimore families save their homes.
Families in Baltimore City have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. More than 89,000 families have received notices of intent to foreclose on their homes since 2008. With the third quarter not yet complete, city foreclosure filings for this year already total 2,533, which means the city's foreclosure total is for 2013 is likely to far exceed the 2,793 foreclosures Baltimore recorded in 2012.
With so many families in danger of losing their homes, it is very disappointing that the plans submitted by the city, and approved by the state attorney general's office, include no funding for emergency aid to homeowners or mortgage forbearance for families in need.
The terms of the national mortgage settlement allow funds to be spent on foreclosure prevention and remediation efforts. Unfortunately, the city's plans focus solely on promoting redevelopment and helping some new homeowners, while doing little or nothing to help families stay in their homes and communities.
The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is also very concerned about the level of engagement the communities targeted for demolition have had in the planning process. That participation needs to go beyond a single community meeting and make sure that community members understand the timeline for demolition activities so they can participate fully in shaping the greening and redevelopment opportunities that are supposed to follow.
On Aug. 1, MCRC and 12 other Baltimore-area housing, community and legal services groups sent a letter to the city's Housing and Planning Department asking for a portion of the city's housing settlement funds to be spent on helping families stay in their homes, as well as for meaningful community engagement.
We're disappointed that the city has apparently decided not to help struggling homeowners at this point or to do any additional outreach in the communities where the demolition activities will take place.
Marceline White, Baltimore
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.