Abell Salutes: Neighborhood Conservation Program (NCP)

December 2003 / Salutes / Community Development

“Helping neighborhoods build upon existing strengths.”

Residents of the Dolfield neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore will soon see work crews renovating an abandoned single-family residential structure on White Oak Avenue. The fourteen hundred square foot, two-story Dutch Colonial structure, vacant for several years, will be transformed into an updated three bedroom, two-bath home complete with garage. Located close to mass transit lines and within a block of an elementary and middle school, the house will be renovated and sold to a homebuyer under HCD’s Neighborhood Conservation Program (NCP), in collaboration with the Greater Northwest Community Coalition (GNCC).

Instituted under Mayor Martin O’Malley and implemented by Housing and Community Development (HCD) Commissioner Paul T. Graziano, NCP is a program of the Development Division of HCD and utilizes City Bond Funds as capital. NCP’s first year operating expenses were funded by a grant from The Abell Foundation.

NCP targets vacant houses in the neighborhoods with a healthy real estate market which, left unattended, depress home sales and housing values. The broad elements of NCP include the coordination of enhanced code enforcement, marketing, community organizing, acquisition and rehabilitation loan programs, and a land banking function comprised of intervention buying, stabilization and interim maintenance, selective demolition and disposition. The intent is for NCP to coordinate public and private sector tools such as homeowner rehabilitation and rehab loans with community organizations and prospective homebuyers so abandoned properties can be either be rehabilitated or demolished and title to the property cleared to enable future site development.

NCP targets locations that are classified as Stabilization and Reinvestment areas per Baltimore’s housing market study. Compared to citywide averages, household incomes are higher. And there is a higher percentage of homeowners in Stabilization and Reinvestment areas. Federal housing programs are generally not available for use in these neighborhoods, primarily due to income restrictions. In the first year NCP reviewed 400 properties within 54 Baltimore neighborhoods from Brooklyn in the southwest to St Helena in the southeast.

NCP identified 71 properties in 27 neighborhoods for acquisition during the first year of operation. HCD’s land resources department and community law center are undertaking the actual acquisition of the properties under either municipal powers of eminent domain, receivership actions filed against the last known owners of record, or negotiated sale. The acquisition process takes a minimum of six months to complete under the best of circumstances. Two properties have already been acquired.

Selective Demolition and Disposition

Eighteen blighted structures were demolished, four located adjacent to the Garwyn Oaks Mayor’s Healthy Neighborhood Initiative area: several third party sales have been brokered. Another property has been sold to the Maryland League for People With Disabilities for use as a “sensory garden” for the League’s clients; NCP funded the demolition of the blighted structure. Another parcel will enlarge an existing adjacent City playground, and two others are slated for sale to adjoining neighbors to enlarge their existing side or back yards, which will both enhance the value of their property and return the land to municipal tax rolls.

While the particular development plan for each of the 52 properties varies, the ability of NCP to focus upon individual properties has and will continue to bear positive results. Many of the properties selected for acquisition under NCP were not only blighting influences within their neighborhoods, but cost the city thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue and maintenance expenditures.

As with any new program the initial year of operation presented challenges to be resolved. HCD has addressed one of these challenges by assigning existing staff NCP responsibilities. A real estate officer has been assigned from HCD’s Office of Acquisition and Relocation; the use of a rehabilitation technician from HCD’s Office of Rehabilitation Services has been supplied when requested. A second challenge the program faces is experienced property owners who undertake various delaying tactics upon learning of its plans to demolish or acquire the blighting property. HCD has enacted procedures to curtail such practices including
denying the issuance of permits to property under condemnation in certain cases.

The Abell Foundation salutes the NCP and its director, Blair Griffith, for NCP’s targeted interventions, helping struggling neighborhoods to build on existing strengths.