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by Mark Reutter4:47 pmMar 6, 20240

Catching flak from a determined council member, Scott defers action on his vacant house pricing plan

The mayor walks back a planned vote under pressure by Councilwoman Odette Ramos as the vacant housing issue heats up

Above: Mayor Scott at first defended his plan to sell vacants for as little as $1 at the Board of Estimates meeting. (Charm TV)

At 9:07 this morning, as the Board of Estimates meeting was getting underway, a letter was emailed by Mayor Brandon Scott to Odette Ramos and other members of the City Council.

“After careful consideration, I have decided to proceed with the fixed pricing policy being heard at the BOE today and plan to implement it as I continue to work with urgency to address Baltimore’s vacant housing crisis.”

Forty-five minutes later, however, Scott was singing a different tune.

“I’m going to ask that we defer this item for one meeting,” he said, well knowing that by virtue of having two appointees on the board, he could pass anything he wants on the BOE.

The force field that upended his resolve was Odette Ramos, a former housing and community activist turned 14th District councilwoman.

Speaking to the BOE from the audience, Ramos gave a passionate critique of Scott’s plan to streamline the sale of city-owned vacant houses in hopes of rehabbing them and getting them back on the market.

Baltimore HCD proposes to sell vacant properties for $1 under certain conditions (2/29/24)

Ramos calls on Mayor Scott to delay plan to sell vacant houses for as little as $1 (3/5/24)

While the concept was sound, the policy developed by Alice Kennedy’s Department of Housing and Community Development was not properly vetted and did not address key issues of equity and affordability, Ramos said.

”We have been dealing with vacant and abandoned housing way too long. I appreciate the emphasis. I appreciate the attention. I appreciate the sense of urgency,” she said, looking straight at the mayor.

”We just got to get it right. I will keep talking about it until we get it done,” she concluded.

City Councilwoman Odette Ramos pleads with Mayor Brandon Scott to delay the vote on his vacant housing proposal, (Charm TV)

Councilwoman Odette Ramos urges Mayor Scott to delay a BOE vote on his vacant housing proposal, (Charm TV)

Scott: Part of Larger Strategy

In an earlier exchange with City Council President Nick Mosby, Scott defended his plan, saying fixed pricing offered to developers and others, including potential homeowners, was one of many strategies his administration was developing.

In December, Scott announced a 15-year, $3 billion “roadmap” to redevelop 37,000 vacant and abandoned properties in Baltimore and “solve this crisis once and for all.”

Ramos said the sale of individual vacants to investors and potential speculators, without strict guidelines, conflicts with the “whole block approach” to fixing the problem.

”We can’t be selling one house in a block of vacants,” she thundered.

“I will keep talking about it until we get it done”  – Odette Ramos.

Receding into the background was Commissioner Kennedy, whose office has worked on the fixed pricing plan since February 2023.

Asked by Mosby if the program could potentially lead to displacement of low-income residents, she offered this analysis:

“Whether or not it’s at different varying areas of median income, from 30% or below for our most vulnerable residents up to 120 and 150%, we look at meeting to insure that we are minimizing displacement in our communities as we embark and continue to invest in our communities that have been disinvested.”

At a City Council hearing yesterday, Kennedy presented a revised vacant pricing policy.

“We just got this in the last 24 hours,”  Ramos said, calling it much too brief a time to evaluate a brand new program.

Scott indicated that his staff will discuss the plan with Ramos, Mosby and others, then place it back on the BOE agenda in two weeks.

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