Bill would turn boarded-up houses into homes again BALTIMORE CITY

February 03, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The City Council is considering a bill that would make it easier for renters and first-time home buyers to purchase vacant city-owned houses.

"What this bill does is to free the vacant houses, to get them into the hands of the people. The city takes years to free a vacant house for sale," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who introduced the bill Monday night. She said she hoped many of the houses could be sold for as little as $1 each.

Ms. Clarke, who unsuccessfully sponsored similar legislation 11 years ago, said she was moved to dust off the bill after spending a recent night at the Lexington Terrace high-rise housing project. "People were saying to me, 'Why should people be living like this when we have so many vacant houses around the city,' " she said yesterday.

Under Ms. Clarke's bill, the housing department would be required to maintain a complete and updated list of the hundreds of vacant properties owned by the city and not slated to be used in specific redevelopment projects within a year.

Anyone over 21 not currently owning a home in Maryland could enter into an immediate agreement for any house on the list. They would have to agree to bring it up to housing code standards and live there for a minimum of three years.

The bill would also allow developers to bid on the more decrepit properties -- those needing more than $30,000 of rehabilitation work -- in return for promises to complete the renovations within 2 1/2 years from the date of settlement.

The city housing department is reviewing the bill and has not yet taken a position on it, said spokesman Zack Germroth.

Mr. Germroth noted that the city already has programs to encourage the rehabilitation of vacant properties, programs that include the Community Development Financing Corp. for developers willing to rehab three or more vacant properties and the newly created Vacant Home Loan Program. The city also holds bi-annual tax sales of vacant properties, he said.

Currently, the city has title to about 700 vacant properties, of which more than 500 are slated for demolition or are earmarked for redevelopment projects, he said.

But Ms. Clarke said yesterday that there are "thousands" of additional abandoned, vacant properties to which the city has not yet taken title. Her bill would create a 13-member commission that would, among other things, study ways the city could gain title to vacant properties more quickly.

It also often takes years for the city to get these planned projects off the ground or get funds to demolish the boarded up properties, Ms. Clarke said. During that time, the properties remain a blight on their neighborhoods, she said.

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