City officials make pitch for Project 5000 houses

First 2,250 homes have buyers or recipients

January 17, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

After toiling for two years to get title to thousands of vacant houses, Baltimore officials are moving into the next phase of an ambitious renewal plan known as Project 5000: getting rid of the stuff.

With computer graphics worthy of a slick real estate broker and simple fliers bearing the slogan "Community for Sale," the city is trying to unload property so it can be redeveloped.

"We've got all kinds of property. You want 'em, we got 'em," housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said at a news conference called yesterday to highlight the progress of Mayor Martin O'Malley's program.

Adopting the tone of an infomercial pitchman, Graziano joked that buyers should call before midnight and reeled off his department's Web site, accidentally ending it with ".com" instead of ".org." The Web address is www.baltimorehousing.org.

The city has obtained title to 2,250 derelict houses and expects to take an equal number in the next six months. The project is on track to exceed its goal by 1,000 - taking 6,000 buildings by the end of the year, officials said.

The city plans to sell or donate the properties for redevelopment by community groups, individuals or for-profit developers. Buyers or recipients are lined up for the first 2,250 houses, which is why the city focused on clearing their titles first, said Michael Bainum, director of Project 5000.

But it's not known who will take the rest. Finding buyers is important because the project is meant to be not just an anti-blight program - in which abandoned houses are knocked down - but also a tool for rebuilding neighborhoods, officials say.

The city has started offering information on Project 5000 properties online at the housing Web site, including photographs of some homes, floor plans and estimates on how much it would cost to renovate them.

In Druid Heights, neighborhood leaders have issued the "Community for Sale" flier. It's not much of an exaggeration: About half of the 1,005 homes in the neighborhood are vacant, and 70 percent of those have been targeted by Project 5000.

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