After a banner year of tearing down vacant houses, Baltimore housing chief Daniel P. Henson III has an even more ambitious goal for 1997: He wants to demolish 1,000 abandoned, deteriorated buildings, twice as many as last year.
The city will hire additional wrecking crews, truck drivers and masons to take down the worst of the once-dignified houses that stand empty and crumbling in neighborhoods from Harlem Park to Penn-North, Waverly and Govans.
For all its gains, the campaign begun by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1994 to rid Baltimore of its most-unsalvageable properties shows the difficulty of reversing neighborhood blight.
The Schmoke administration took down 529 vacant properties last year, almost double the 295 in 1995. But housing officials also counted an additional 1,100 vacant houses last year.
Today, the inventory of properties officially declared abandoned is 10,300, up from 9,200 last year and 6,974 in 1993.
"It's a very perplexing and complex problem," Henson said. "But we have to take into account that some of these properties just can't be saved. When communities come to us, they've decided that this is a property that can't be saved, that's now a nuisance."
Henson acknowledged the official tally is too low; he says as many as 18,000 houses may well be standing empty, testimony to the three-decade exodus of residents from Baltimore.
City public works crews and wrecking companies hired by the housing department tore down entire blocks of vacant rowhouses last year.
But the demolition program will be more difficult this year because most of the targeted houses are in the middle or at the end of blocks.
The city also has to acquire properties it plans to raze, often a time-consuming legal process.
Some of the 1,000 properties on Henson's list are scheduled to come down under the vast multimillion-dollar undertakings to revitalize the Sandtown-Winchester area and the East Baltimore neighborhoods around the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
In announcing the expanded program Thursday, Schmoke emphasized that community leaders should come up with a plan for a lot before asking the city to tear down a vacant house.
"We're working with community groups, so we don't end up with just vacant lots where people are throwing trash on the lot," Schmoke said.
"We're going to work with them on a plan, whether it's new housing, or community gardens, or some other positive program," he said.
In some neighborhoods, the lots where vacant houses once stood are strewn with trash.
But elsewhere, community groups have set up playgrounds and planted grass.
Pub Date: 1/12/97