Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is currently occupied with issues of policing and crime. But the city’s massive housing problem is also an issue indivisible from justice.
There are more than 16,000 vacant houses in Baltimore. Vacants are both densely pocketed inside the city and widespread across its boundaries.
That’s the at-a-glance takeaway from a new interactive map of the Baltimore metropolitan area by Amine Ouazad, an economist at INSEAD. Vacant houses are not a Baltimore County problem, though. They’re almost exclusively Baltimore City’s problem.
Ouazad built a map of census tracts for the entire Baltimore metropolitan area using American Community Survey data. This interactive map shows the number of housing units in each neighborhood alongside the vacancy rate. In some Baltimore neighborhoods—in too many of them—the vacancy rate amounts to one-third of the total housing or more.
Vacancy rates are high in the neighborhoods of North Penn, Greater Mondawmin, and Sandtown-Winchester. Near the CVS that was torched in the pop-off following the death of Freddie Gray, vacancy rates rise as high as 40 percent. But the problem extends beyond the high-profile Baltimore neighborhoods targeted by crime and police.
In a blog post about blight in Baltimore, Ouazad notes that some neighborhoods with high vacancy rates are situated right beside neighborhoods with low vacancy rates, especially along the border. “Rosedale is a more than 70 percent white and middle-class suburb,” Ouazad notes, “which sits right next to inner-city neighborhoods where a fifth to a quarter of all houses are vacant.”
For the foreseeable future, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be occupied with policy questions over crime. This week, the fourth and highest-ranking member of the mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice tendered her resignation. Meanwhile, the Baltimore police union has called for the U.S. Department of Justice to expand its civil-rights investigation of the Baltimore Police Department to include the mayor’s office.
Eventually, the city must return its focus to housing, an issue that is, of course, indivisible from justice. The Vacants-to-Value program launched by Mayor Rawlings-Blake back in 2010 is only a start to the reforms the city must implement in wiping out delinquent-tax debt, speeding up certification permitting, and selling these properties—or even giving them away.