A nonprofit legal services agency has been awarded a $627,500 grant to begin a push by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to rehabilitate or demolish nearly 700 vacant properties in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
The work by the Community Law Center kicks off a pledge made by Mr. Schmoke in March that every vacant and boarded house in the Sandtown-Winchester area will be either renovated or demolished within one year.
The Board of Estimates awarded the grant earlier this week. The city Department of Housing and Community Development will use the money to place 350 properties in receivership and for title work on 250 properties the city wants to acquire.
Most of the work is expected to be completed within one year. Once acquisitions are made, many of the dwellings will be renovated with private, state and federal funds.
Earlier this year, the mayor said his goal to eliminate vacant dwellings in Sandtown-Winchester will help complete a nationally recognized neighborhood renaissance.
He said vacant houses continue to blight Sandtown-Winchester despite the creation of 200 new homes through the city's $17 million Nehemiah Housing Program and a $13 million renovation of the Gilmor Homes public housing project.
The 670 vacant properties, some owned by the city, are scattered through the West Baltimore neighborhood that covers square blocks.
"We've got a tremendous commitment to Sandtown," said Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner. "We need to show that we can make a difference."
Besides new housing, the area has got a prenatal outreach program and drug treatment services.
These and other community projects are supported by neighborhood residents, who, for the first time in their lives, are becoming involved in their community, the mayor said.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the push to eliminate vacant houses in Sandtown-Winchester may start a larger push to diminish the tally of 6,000 vacant dwellings scattered throughout Baltimore. "We need to do this everywhere," she said.