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Baltimore Grapples With Vacant Rowhouses And Balancing Budget

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By Cathy Duchamp

The Baltimore City Council takes its final vote tonight at 5 p.m. on a package of tax and fee increases that will help rein in a $121 million budget deficit. Among the measures: a fee on vacant houses.

Boarded up row houses are part of the Baltimore landscape. Not a good part, says Matthew Gonter.

"I know one house over here, a prostitute was using it one day," he says. "She lit a candle and the whole house caught fire."

Gonter is doing a little show-and-tell of his Patterson Park neighborhood. He wants Baltimore to follow D.C.’s lead in issuing higher taxes on vacant property.

"My ultimate goal is to make it unfeasible for landlords to continue the status quo and either fix up their properties or sell them, because they’ll no longer be able to afford the taxes on them," he says.

The Baltimore City Council didn’t go with that strategy, saying it hurts non-profits who can’t get the loans to fix up empty houses. Instead, the council is expected to adopt a new registration fee for vacant buildings.

Gonter is disappointed. But he’ll continue to lobby for ways to get vacant property owners to take action, instead of waiting for the economy to turn around.

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