As described by Nina Simone in the song “Baltimore,” in some ways Baltimore is “a hard town by the sea.” And for a segment of the port city’s African-American residents, Simone’s sentiments ring true, “Ain’t it hard just to live?”
Charm City, however, is also a proud and resilient city and in a move to erase urban blight, council members and local community advocates are pushing for a government program that would sell thousands of vacant homes and buildings in inner-city neighborhoods for just $1. In exchange for the nominal purchase price, buyers would be obligated to refurbish and live in the properties for a certain period of time. Advocates say the program would also create much-need employment opportunities via construction jobs.
As reported by Black Enterprise, according to a bill adopted by the Baltimore City Council last month, the program would revitalize “marginal neighborhoods by matching construction ability at the grass roots of Baltimore to production of affordable housing for workers’ families and neighbors.” The idea is modeled after the 1973 “Dollar House” program, which sold rundown, city-owned houses for $1 and helped rebuild neglected neighborhoods in the city throughout the 1980s. The original program also granted buyers low-interest loans to rehabilitate the properties as long as they lived in the homes for a certain amount of time.
The city’s housing commissioner argues, however, the program is outdated and that there is not enough government funding to address what The Baltimore Sunestimates as 16,000 to 46,000 vacant homes. Reportedly, that’s triple the amount in the ’80s. Plus, about 250,000 fewer people live in the city compared to when the program first started.
Meanwhile, similar programs have reportedly been effective in distressed neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York.