Tuesday evening, residents of Baltimore's East side gathered to protest the blight and vacant homes left by developers who purchased the buildings and have yet to make good on promises to renovate and bring renters or buyers to the neighborhood. Munir Bahar, founder of the COR Health Iinstitute, an organization "created to serve young people and help them stay healthy, mentally and physically," gathered area residents to call on the city to crack down on absentee developers. It's his belief that these developers are responsible for the city's crisis of vacant homes and buildings.
To Bahar and others, developers are leaving block after block of vacant homes to rot, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin. The connection between vacant homes due to absentee developers and neighborhood trauma and violence is a clear one. It's a connection that Bahar's COR Health Institute aims to break. The COR Institute's website notes that their mission is to present physical activity as "a fun, creative and inexpensive way to motivate young people to practice healthy lifestyle habits." In an era where children face obesity, and a city where violence gets too much news coverage, that's a lofty goal.
One of the program's initiatives is the Clean Streets Youth Program.
Through largely private donations, the Clean Streets Program offers "a tangible incentive for young people to work and participate in cleaning their own community. Youth ages ten and up receive a stipend for working within the community working weekends on cleanup efforts.
In order to gain momentum and to hold absentee developers responsible for their lack of action, Bahar gathered neighbors for a "Rise Up Rally" in hopes of getting some attention from City Hall. The group already knows there are far too mamy vacant buildings in their neighborhood, and now it is time to change that.
Currently, there are more than 15,000 vacant buildings in Baltimore City.
Bahar referred by name to one developer when he stated, “We have a specific demand today that we want Ujima Developers LLC. A developer who owns several properties in the 2200 block of Chase Street we want them out of our neighborhood.” Potential individual buyers are often reluctant to enter the market in neighborhoods with blighted areas out of fear that the area will remain undeveloped, prone to crime, or that surrounding homes are structurally unsound.
One resident said, "the trash, it's deplorable, it's unacceptable and I'm tired of it." So neighbors are stepping up to put pressure on the city to remedy the situation. Area residents hope to have the properties transferred to the neighborhood community association so they can work together at the local level to reinvigorate the block.
Bahar has spoken directly with Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development about the lack of action on the part of developers in the neighborhood.
"Right now, it's a smack in the face to those of us who do live here," according to Bahar. Many of the vacant properties are in such poor condition that they are safety hazards. The developer-owners have done little to contain the properties or provide basic maintenance to prevent the properties from nearing condemned status. Residents worry about unauthorized inhabitants and rodent infestations as health and safety hazards in addition to structural issues.
Tuesday's rally was designed to send a singular message to delinquent developers: "You're out of time."
Bahar's COR Institute is a staple in the neighborhood, aimed at using martial arts and healthy physical activity to promote wellness, curb violence and promote a safe neighborhood environment.
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