The relationship between vacant buildings and crime has also received renewed attention this week after Baltimore firefighters entered what they thought was a vacant rowhouse in Carrollton Ridge on Sunday evening and found a gunshot victim who was later pronounced dead. Residents said the incident illustrates two huge issues in their neighborhood: a staggering concentration of blighted properties and rampant gun violence, problems that some consider interconnected.
Antonio McDuffie, owner of Antonio’s Hair Designs and pastor at Empowered Church Ministries in Brooklyn, said he recently decided to move his church to a new location off South Caton Avenue in Halethorpe because members of the congregation have become too concerned about violent crime. He said the decision was a tough one, and his barber shop — a longtime fixture on East Patapsco Street — will remain in Brooklyn.
“My parishioners love the church and the worship experience, but what they have to walk through — all the madness and mayhem of drug activity and violence — is just too much,” he said. “As a pastor, I have to put them in a better situation if I want to continue growing the church.”
During the neighborhood canvas Thursday, Scott stopped in the barber shop and chatted with McDuffie while he cut hair.
Scott also stopped to joke around with a group of middle school students outside nearby Maree G. Farring Elementary-Middle School. When a boy asked him what brought him to the neighborhood, Scott explained his team was looking at vacant houses and trying to get them fixed up.
“Respect,” the student said. He smiled and introduced the mayor to his vice principal, Jim Grandsire, who spoke proudly about their close-knit school community.
“Being in this part of the city, sometimes we feel forgotten, partly because we’re geographically isolated,” Grandsire said. “Bringing more attention to the challenges and success stories is always good.”
The block officials walked through Thursday — stretching between Fourth and Fifth streets and from East Patapsco Avenue and Cambria Street — features a mix of residential properties and businesses, including McDuffie’s barber shop, a bustling corner store and the local Safe Streets office. The area has also become known for drug activity and violent crime, especially around some of the vacant buildings, officials said.
Addressing those issues, both in Brooklyn and throughout the city, will require investing in communities that historically have suffered from decades of serious disinvestment, said Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy praised the mayor for his commitment to blight prevention and pledged to keep working diligently to address the nearly 15,000 vacant houses in Baltimore.
The first step is often securing blighted buildings so people can’t get inside while city officials pursue the necessary legal proceedings, which can ultimately result in the property changing hands — and getting rehabilitated or repurposed — or the structure being demolished. Although the list of vacant houses is daunting, Kennedy said, her office is not deterred from their mission of improving both the physical and mental wellbeing of residents through housing initiatives.
“Now is the time,” she said. “We are making a difference every day.”
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