mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Blaming everything on the housing bubble...

Via consumerist is this article on the problems of abandoned housing in cities, and how it's being made worse by foreclosures. The article, and they way Consumerist presents it, make it seem like foreclosures are the main cause of the glut of abandoned houses in Baltimore.

Not so much. The article does mention that b-more had over 10,000 abandoned houses in 2000 - when the bubble hadn't even started blowing up, when houses were still cheap.

Baltimore has a lot of abandoned buildings for a lot of reasons. First of all, much of Baltimore City's housing stock is old - 100+ years old - and hasn't been well-maintained. Many of the buildings need literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work just to be habitable - which is more than they are worth. We're talking buildings that are basically a brick shell. When I lived in Resevoir Hill, the city was doing sales of city-owned properties, and many of them were going for less than $20,000 - but included estimates of the work, usually around $200,000 needed to make them livable.

Add in the fact that b-more has a lot of neighborhoods that nobody wants to live in - ones with high crime, old houses, poor schools. Even though you could buy houses in these neighborhoods for next to nothing, nobody wants to. People are still leaving Baltimore City for the County and beyond. Sure, there are some nice neighborhoods that are gentrifying, that are getting nicer and attracting newcomers, but there are also quite a few that people are leaving as soon as they can.

It probably doesn't help that the city makes it hard to be a homeowner or landlord. When I was buying a new front door for my townhouse, I noticed a sign at Lowe's that Baltimore City residents are required to pay $80 to buy a permit to put up a new door. Yup, the city is charging a fee to- and thus discouraging people from - improving their homes. Baltimore County, on the other hand, doesn't care if you want to make your entryway nicer. And when I lived in the city and rented, I had the fun of having a housing inspector cite me and my landlord because I had an "unsafe apartment" - a pile of flattened boxes leaning against the wall (I sell on eBay, and stockpile boxes for packing) and wires running across my floor (for AV equipment and computers). Meanwhile, as my landlord grumbled, stuff was falling off the facade of the buildings across the street from us and the city didn't care.

Are foreclosures causing more vacant and abandoned homes in Charm City? Probably. But I think it's also the fact that home prices are going down and demand is shrinking, which is discouraging people from fixing up and "flipping" some of the abandoned properties - which means that more abandoned homes are staying abandoned instead of getting purchased and fixed up. And the general flight from the city is also contributing.

But blaming foreclosures is way more flashy.


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