Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Take to the blogs!

Coinciding with the city’s proposed land-banking program to deal with Baltimore’s 30,000 vacant properties, another citizen activist blog has sprung up: Baltimore Slumlord Watch.

It’s a website in the vein of Baltimore John Watch, the site that began last year to fight prostitution in Pigtown (Pigtown seems to be a hotbed of internet-based social activism!) by posting photos, videos and license plate info of the johns who visit prostitutes in that neighborhood.

Baltimore Slumlord Watch posts addresses, pictures, and contact info for the state-listed owners of vacant properties and urges the city to deal with the problems.

I understand and respect the need for this sort of thing — I’m all for people protecting their families, preserving their property values and generally keeping their neighborhoods clean. And what these derelict property owners and johns appear to be doing is negligent and illegal. I just wonder sometimes if publicly shaming people on a case-by-case basis is the best way to effect real change. It seems to me that the only way to target this sort of behavior in a meaningful way is on the demand side — after all, being a slumlord has got to be the world’s second-oldest profession — because there will always be desperate or careless people willing to exploit or be exploited for money. In the case of the johns, it means prosecuting those who seek out sex for money, and rehabilitating or re-socializing the prostitutes they visit. In the case of the vacant houses, it’s a little trickier: you have to create demand for vacant properties and emphasize the incentives for rehabbing them.

From that angle, the Land Bank seems very sensible: If indeed the problem with vacants is that they’re hard to buy, rehab and sell again because of city bureaucracy, a program like a land bank that removes those sorts of barriers to development should be the way to go. Unfortunately, we’ve never had one in Baltimore, so we don’t know how well such a thing might work.

Here’s an idea. To the “Baltimore City resident who was tired of watching out of town developers and investors (and the city government) buy properties and let them sit vacant for months…years…even decades” who runs Baltimore Slumlord Watch: Please post, alongside every vacant house you photograph, a shot of an interested buyer.

Robbie Whelan, Business Writer