Neighbors welcome barricade systems on vacant houses City's plan to lock out crime from buildings to cost $728,000

July 29, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

As William T. Pointer sees it, the abandoned house at 1001 W. Baltimore St. should have been torn down years ago.

Pointer, 66, who lives on the same block, said he remembers schoolchildren watching prostitutes lean out of its broken windows, with crack pipes in their hands.

The boarded-up, crumbling structure is on a "Top 10" list of dwellings determined to be the worst abandoned houses the city owns. Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III announced plans yesterday to close the houses' doors for good by replacing plywood with steel barriers and secured entrances, provided by Vacant Property Security, a Chicago-based company that specializes in securing buildings under construction.

Whether the buildings are ultimately torn down or renovated, the steel security is designed to keep criminals out in the meantime. Until now, Henson said, boarded windows and doors have been ripped off as fast as city workers could nail them on. And prostitutes, drug users, thieves, vandals and arsonists have made themselves at home.

Zack Germroth, city housing department spokesman, said that by the end of next week, the city's Bureau of Purchasing should approve $728,000 to rent the security systems -- so they can be moved among these and other crime-infested abandoned buildings -- for $14,000 a week for a year.

About 5 percent of the roughly 11,000 abandoned buildings in Baltimore are owned by the city, which means 95 percent of them belong to private -- and out-of-town or deceased -- owners, Germroth said. He said the city can install the system on a privately owned, abandoned building within 24 hours after issuing a property takeover notice.

Douglas DiJulio, regional manager for Vacant Property Security, ZTC said the system can be installed within a few days. VPS already has installed a demonstration system at 2611 Carver Road.

"When a neighborhood has abandoned property," he said, "it's a signpost that these are places where crimes can be committed."

Angelique Cook-Hayes, a city police spokeswoman, said the abandoned building at 2400 Lakeview Ave. has generated 239 emergency calls this year for drug use, rape, juvenile disturbances, auto theft, shooting, armed robbery and others.

At 938 Bentalou St., police responded to two narcotics calls and one report of a burglary, she said.

Germroth said the "top 10" houses were determined from interviews with workers at the city's nine neighborhood centers.

Police did not have statistics on calls to 1001 W. Baltimore St. for this year, but Pointer said crime is happening right in front of the people who live near the abandoned building, but no one will report it.

"It's an eyesore," he said. "It should have been torn down a long time ago."

Henson said "undercrowding," a decrease in population that leads to an increase in abandoned properties, is the housing department's most serious problem.

He announced other plans yesterday to encourage new development and clean up or demolish deteriorating structures.

Henson said a new "fast track permit system" would reduce the waiting period for a permit to improve existing buildings from the current four to six weeks to four to six days. Speedier permits would encourage developers to come to Baltimore, he said.

The city's Settlement Expense Loan Program will receive a $20 million boost from Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association, to provide loans of up to $5,000 each to about 4,600 interested homeowners, Germroth said. The program has already provided 4,000 loans, averaging $4,200 each.

"Home sales are hot as a firecracker right now," Henson said.

"Baltimore is a good place to buy a house for lots of reasons."

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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