Research Project

Vacant Housing Dynamics in Baltimore City

Working with City officials, our goal is to better understand the dynamics of vacant housing in Baltimore City, measure the impact of current interventions, and help to hone decision and policy making using statistical analyses of available data.

Urban housing redevelopment has a long tradition and typically involves a wide range of topics from social studies of communities to housing economics. With the advent of sensor networks and computerized record keeping of public data, research in this area is changing dramatically. A new branch of data-driven science aimed at improving the quality of city life is emerging, and being integrated into redevelopment policy and administration. But every city is different! Macroeconomic and demographic trends have left Baltimore with 300,000 fewer residents than 60 years ago. This depopulation has resulted in more than 16,000 vacant, uninhabitable buildings. These buildings pose significant challenges to the City Leadership, from maintenance and crime to negative perceptions hampering reinvestment. While the preferred outcome for a vacant building is rehabilitation, in many cases demolition of an entire row is the only viable option. Addressing the vacancy crisis is essential to attracting and retaining people in Baltimore, a key goal formalized in the Grow Baltimore program.

To get started, there are hundreds of available datasets. The City produces and maintains data on properties ranging from construction permits and violation notices to water usage and calls for police service. The OpenBaltimore initiative (http://data.baltimorecity.gov) has over a hundred public datasets in a dozen categories including City Government, City Services, Financial, Housing & Development, and Transportation. Independent organizations also collect and curate public data. The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA, http://bniajfi.org) ingests data from 25 sources and derives 150 indicators per neighborhood each year in an attempt to measure the quality of life (see the Vital Signs 12 report). Our goal is to study the outstanding challenges and combine the required datasets to address the relevant questions the City faces.

Advanced visualizations on geographic maps help the Housing Department decide on the course of action for individual houses and whole neighborhoods. This “blacklight map” shows properties around the Hopkins Medical Campus (blue) colored according to their vacancy status: red and pink currently have vacant buildings, while green had vacants in 2010 but no longer. / Illustration by John David Evans / Code Stat Director / Baltimore City Housing /

Advanced visualizations on geographic maps help the Housing Department decide on the course of action for individual houses and whole neighborhoods. This “blacklight map” shows properties around the Hopkins Medical Campus (blue) colored according to their vacancy status: red and pink currently have vacant buildings, while green had vacants in 2010 but no longer.
/ Illustration by John David Evans / Code Stat Director / Baltimore City Housing /

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