It's economics, stupid! Changing neighborhoods: As vacant houses multiply, innovative solutions become harder.

November 13, 1997

A MAJOR REASON for Baltimore's abandoned-housing problem is that many neighborhoods have lost their economic viability. Residents have no jobs, no ownership stake and no money to spend on improvements. Absentee landlords have bled their properties dry and are content to let them go vacant. About the only people finding unrealized value are dope fiends, who rip off copper pipes and mantelpieces and sell them for a pittance.

Baltimore neighborhoods are full of blocks that have come to the end of their economic life cycle. In some cases, the city is tearing them down. In others they are being demolished through neglect -- with assistance from vandals, arsonists and Mother Nature.

The Citizens Planning and Housing Association is holding a day-long conference Nov. 22 on vacant housing. We urge participants to focus on the economic reasons. A study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development says that once 3 to 6 percent of a neighborhood's dwellings are abandoned "investment psychology becomes so depressed that reversal of the abandonment process is impossible without major external intervention."

That could mean many Baltimore neighborhoods are teetering on the brink. Any number of factors -- such as crime or death of elderly homeowners -- can cause their further decline.

Canton is an example of an area where an influx of younger, more affluent residents is reviving an aging blue-collar neighborhood. Because the newcomers have money, new restaurants and shops are following them. The question is whether the Patterson Park area, just a few blocks to the north, also will be rejuvenated or fall victim to disinvestment and flight.

The CPHA conference -- 8: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lemmel Middle School, 2801 N. Dukeland St. -- could serve as a catalyst for community consensus. The problems have been amply documented. Now is the time for action.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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