What is vacancy?

Understanding abandoned houses in Baltimore

Welcome 😀

Let's get to know each other

Let's get to know Baltimore

Baltimore (2010), Eric Fischer

What is a vacant house?

Why are vacant houses a problem?

What does a vacant house mean to a neighborhood? 🙀

What does a vacant house mean to a city? 💸

How big is our vacant house problem? 



Trick question!


Counting vacant houses is hard.

How did Baltimore's vacant house problem begin?

Everybody knows...

Too many houses. Too few people.

But don't you wonder...

Where did all the houses come from?
Where did all the people go?

Baltimore (1838), George W. Boynton. JScholarship

Baltimore (1886), John F. Weishampel. JScholarship


In January 1891, a crowd watched a “quaint but pretentious little building of classic architecture” disappear “before the march of modern improvement.”

Tusculum, 1891. Maryland Historical Society

That Baltimore in her rapid growth is not only the queen city of the South, but is outstripping by far other large cities in its claim to the title of "The City of Homes," is attested by the almost unprecedented demand for modern dwellings and the quickness of builders to realize this demand.

Baltimore Sun, 1908

The number of vacant houses in the city is due both to the many dwellings being built in the suburbs and the dilapidated condition of many in Baltimore.


— James Cary Martien, 1910

HOLC Map (1937), JScholarship

"Area H" now Poe Homes (1939). Archives of the Afro-American Newspaper 

200 block of S. Caroline Street (1940). Digital Maryland

1952 Map. Courtesy the Afro.

Why are houses abandoned?


Vacant House Bingo!

What triggers abandonment? 🌩

  • Household Transition
  • Deterioration
  • Low Market Value
  • Neighborhood Change
  • Market Imperfections
  • Predatory Lending
  • Excessive Liens

What can we do about vacant houses?

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Demolition or Rehabilitation?

What are the costs?

Demolition: $15K to $20K for each house

Building a support wall: $10K+ for each side

Reroofing a collapsed house: $35K+

Relocating a renter before demolition: $25K for each + market value of the remaining real estate – $10K

Relocating a homeowner before demolition: $175K

What are the costs?

Low subsidy rehab grants to developers: $20K to $30K

Rehabilitating a distressed rowhouse: $100K+

How would you spend Baltimore's money for vacant housing?

You can take action.

  • Call 311 to report code violations
  • Connect neighbors with resources early
  • Join and support your community association
  • Survey vacant properties in your neighborhood
  • Utilize self-help nuisance abatement
  • Work with Baltimore Housing & City Agencies


Thank you!