The city's housing department spent $219,600 to renovate three houses that were subsequently vandalized while they have been sitting vacant for more than two years.
The three-story rowhouses, at 508, 510 and 512 E. North Ave., were renovated for sale at $37,000 each. But they did not sell because of the neighborhood's reputation for crime and drug dealing, said Tom Jaudon, chief of the homeownership institute in the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development.
Vandals stripped the vacant houses of their plumbing, heating systems and windows. Addicts have broken in and used the houses as drug-shooting galleries, leaving behind used hypodermic syringes and other drug paraphernalia, says Mary Harvin, president of Peoples Homesteading, a non-profit organization that is now trying to buy the houses from the city.
Jaudon said the housing department tried to sell the houses to homebuyers through advertisements and notices to neighborhood organizations, but had no takers.
The houses, which the city had to board up at least three times, were renovated with Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Harvin, whose office is a block away, said her group inspected the houses and offered to buy all three from the city for $30,000.
The group's proposal was made in December and has been informally accepted, although the agreement is still awaiting the signature of Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn, said Jaudon.
Harvin worries the houses will be further vandalized if the city continues to delay turning them over to her organization. She said Peoples Homesteading already has families lined up to move in and make repairs.
While the houses have been vacant, "the furnaces have walked, the plumbing has walked, even the windows have walked. I don't know why it's taking so long," Harvin said, for the city to turn over the houses to her group.
"It was amazing to go in and find the houses beautifully renovated and to find human feces on the walls and crack vials on the floor," she said.
Harvin said vandals even pried off the baseboards.
"Anything they can get a dime or a dollar for, they'd take," she said of the vandals.
Members of Harvin's organization reclaim deteriorated rowhouses by volunteering to renovate them.
Although the city failed to sell the three houses, Jaudon said, his office successfully sold eight others in nearby blocks of East North Avenue.
The city planned to sell the houses for less than it cost to renovate them to encourage low- and moderate-income people in the neighborhood -- called East Baltimore Midway -- to purchase them.
Usually, Jaudon said, homebuyers are eager to purchase the renovated houses.
"Usually rehabs go pretty quickly. People see a good thing," said Jaudon, adding that prospective buyers were scared off by "that corner," at the intersection of North and Greenmount avenues, a reputed hot spot for drug dealing.