After more than a decade of small-scale and emergency demolition projects that did not keep pace with the burgeoning vacancy rate in the city's residential areas, Baltimore has embarked on a slightly less-small-scale demolition surge.
In the past, the city has done only about $2.5 million in demolitions annually, but Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposed Capital Projects budget earmarks a total of $16.5 million for various demolition-related activities in 2014 and $4.9 million in 2015.
City Paper reached out to Baltimore Housing last week to find out how the new surge would play out: how many demolition contracts, for example, and what specific buildings were targeted. Spokesperson Cheron Porter emailed back a link to the city's website, in which 24 "clusters" are targeted, generally "as a result of input from community leaders and residents." The addresses are contained on plat maps that are downloadable, but details of the demolition contracting are not available.
More than $9 million of the demolition funding is coming from a class-action settlement the city was part of last year, when 49 state attorneys general extracted a $25 billion dowry from the five largest big banks and mortgage service companies for their parts in a massive fraud (remember "robo-signing?") that caused millions of unnecessary foreclosures in the aftermath of the housing bubble.
Baltimore City's rake was $10 million. City officials earmarked $9.5 million of it for demolition.
The nonprofit Citizens Planning and Housing Association called the demolition program "a fiscally responsible housing strategy."
Demolition of vacant buildings has long been considered good policy, which is why the city funneled more than $35 million from an "affordable housing" fund into demolitions during the middle of the last decade.
A substantial chunk of the demolition work contracted by city officials goes to P&J Contracting Company, which Pless Jones founded in 1979. Jones, who was formerly married to Rawlings-Blake's friend Lisa Harris Jones (who coincidentally lobbies for all the right people downtown and in Annapolis), received a $3 million contract in April, despite being out of compliance with the city's minority hiring goals.
The compliance problem was notable, as Jones also heads the Maryland Minority Contractor's Association and has, as reported in the Baltimore Brew, routinely employed family members as subcontractors.
Despite an alphabet soup of programs meant to sell off and rehab the city's excess housing stock (SCOPE-Selling City-Owned Properties Efficiently; P5K-Project 5000; and now V2V-Vacants to Value), the city's stock of vacant properties increased by 43 percent over the 2000s, according to figures compiled in the annual "Vital Signs" book of statistics.
There are more than 45,000 vacant properties in Baltimore, some 16,000 of which the city tallies in its Open Baltimore database as vacant buildings.
The demolition surge is aimed at leveling about 1,500 of these.