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City-Owned Vacant Homes in Baltimore to Be Sold for $1

2024

The Baltimore Board of Estimates approved a program to sell city-owned vacant homes for $1. The decision was made despite objections from City Council President Nick Mosby, who expressed deep concern about the policy. The new pricing structure, approved by a 4-1 vote, will apply to a small group of city-owned homes listed on the Buy Into Bmore website, with rates starting at $1. Mosby, a Democrat, voted against the item, noting that he had proposed a similar program in 2021, which stalled in committee in 2022.

Mosby had previously pushed for a deferral of the new policy, arguing that Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration had not provided sufficient written guidelines to ensure that city residents are given first rights to buy properties and are not displaced when neighborhoods improve. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that sales fit into a broader approach to development that addresses vacancy for entire areas, rather than individual properties.

City housing officials, however, have insisted that guardrails are in place to protect residents. These include a 90-day window during which city residents will have priority to buy properties for renovation and use as their primary residence. The Department of Housing and Community Development also plans to offer a form for residents to indicate interest in buying any vacant property, whether city-owned or otherwise.

Alice Kennedy, the city’s housing commissioner, explained that the pricing policy is part of the city’s property disposition strategy and that there are other programs to help residents and developers financially when they buy properties to rehab.

The $1 price point will be available only for individual buyers and community land trusts. Developers will have to pay $3,000, as will large nonprofits with 51 or more employees, while nonprofits with fewer employees could pay $1,000. The policy also covers vacant lots, which will range in price from $1 to $1,000, based on a similar structure.

The new pricing structure will apply to vacant homes and lots in city neighborhoods with the most stressed housing markets, primarily in East and West Baltimore. However, it will apply to very few of the city's total vacant properties, as fewer than 1,000 of the city's total vacant properties are city-owned, and not all of those are listed on the Buy Into Bmore website.

The program is reminiscent of the city’s “dollar house” program of the 1970s, which offered homes for $1 to residents willing to fix them up and live in them. However, unlike the previous program, the current approach does not include low-interest rate renovation loans for buyers.

The pricing policy is part of a larger plan to address the thousands of vacant homes and lots in the city. Last year, Mayor Scott unveiled a $3 billion plan that calls for a mix of public and private funding to be spent over 15 years to address 35,000 homes, including down payment and closing cost assistance.

Nneka N’namdi, a Baltimore housing advocate, expressed support for the fixed pricing policy but emphasized the need for conditions that prioritize existing residents and prevent slumlords and land speculators from participating. She also stressed the importance of offering financial assistance to buyers to help them rehabilitate properties.

In response, Mayor Scott committed to developing an anti-displacement and equity policy and creating a public-facing tracking tool for “whole block” development. He also pledged quarterly reports to the city council on the demographics of buyers and an annual review of the program’s effectiveness.

Mosby, however, argued that N’namdi’s demands were not being met by the city’s current policies governing the $1 sales, emphasizing the need to ensure that the policy is in place to protect residents.

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