Understanding Vacants to Value

By Lindsey Davis

Evaluating a program is different than evaluating program implementation. I don’t intend to provide research backed analysis on the projected success of the Baltimore City Vacants to Value initiative. Rather, my objective is to simplify. I aim to provide you, the individual interested in owning a home, some semblance of program understanding.

In Short
Vacants to Values aims to get people to buy vacant houses.
Greatest Strength
You can actually get a hefty amount of money for buying one of the qualified properties, and City support to better your new ‘hood.
Greatest Weakness
Because the housing department can’t endorse certain services due to liability, the potential owner is left hanging when it comes to many of the required steps to home renovation and completion.

Greatest Hope
The curators of V2V are conscious of rebranding and new delivery methods. If you have ideas, technologies, or thoughts that can lead to success, you should contact them. julia.day@baltimorecity.gov

What Do I Need?
Money. Although the city will pay a good bit towards your purchase, you’re still buying a vacant home which you agree to fix up within one year. If you can’t afford to buy a vacant home, you can’t afford to redevelop one.
Do You Have:
- Current housing code violations in Baltimore City?
- Outstanding taxes due to Baltimore City?
- The intent to use your new home as something other than a primary residence?
If any of these are checked you are not eligible.

Find a Property

Become Eligible for Money
Enroll in homeownership counseling: this is a must for eligibility.

Fill Out An Application
Be Prepared:
- To answer questions about your current lawful status.
- To detail how you intend to pay for the home and renovations.
- To list your equity, debt, projected costs, and financial support.
- To summarize your development plans and how they will help eliminate blight.
For quick turnaround – you’ll know within three weeks if you’ve been accepted http://static.baltimorehousing.org/pdf/vtov_application.pdf.

Available Programs to Get Money
* These grants were available when this article was originally published on June 6, 2013
- Buying Into Baltimore: $5,000 deferred loan (40 available)
- Live Near Your Work: $3,000 from you + $3,000 from employer + 3,000 from the City
- V2V Booster: $10,000 in down payment and closing costs (50 available)
- Good Neighbors Program: $5,000 deferred loan, dissolving at $20%/year for 5 years (100 available)
- State Program Assistance: $10,000 (50 available), $5,000 deferred loan

More Money
If you are over 65, disabled, or a qualified low income household, several more sources may pertain to you:
CDBG, Deferred Loan Owner-Occupied Program, Office of Rehabilitation, Senior Roof Repair, Housing Rehab Program, Accessible Homes for Seniors

Timeline for Completion
You have 1 year to finish needed renovations and development.

Support for Completion
[cue crickets]
The beautiful thing about the Vacants to Value (V2V) program and those who run it is that they actually give a damn about making it better. The implementation of the V2V Program is almost there. The premise is solid, though the process only takes a potential homeowner halfway. The greatest gaps include oversight and completion. In part, this is completely understandable – the government can’t recommend service providers because they’d be liable if the service provider (like a plumber or electrician) screwed up. Unfortunately this leaves a huge gap for failure, as the program plans for those with renovation money, but not for those who lack self-discipline to finish what they’ve started. Additionally, there’s no real continued oversight to make sure the home is being rehabilitated as promised.
Julie Day and Michael Braverman, the two individuals directing Vacants to Value are anxious to take this program to the next level. V2V holds open houses, workshops, and has a loosely kept alumni database solicited for feedback, but the advertising might be misplaced and the website is nothing short of overwhelming and disengaging. Going through the mock process of buying one of these homes, I found myself wanting a map view as alternative to ‘searchable by neighborhood,’ since I didn’t know where many of these neighborhoods were, and filtering through website text took hours. Fortunately, Julie is working with MICA to rebrand the site and graphics, and would love some sort of smartphone app so people could view real time data on available homes. I also feel there needs to be a searchable funding database, where I only see the loans for which I am qualified. I also feel the gaps in this program provide incredible opportunity for local freelancing technologists, designers, and event planners to propose tactics for program betterment.

While the homebuyer is responsible for making changes to the actual house, the government is responsible for making changes around it: roads will be cleaned up, potholes filled, and tree branches trimmed. In exchange for your investment in the private realm, the City will invest in the surrounding public realm. Overall, it’s a pretty sweet deal – you just have to make sure your genetic makeup is ready to dedicate a year of your life to proactively use the $30,000 the government gives you.