Community First: Baltimore’s Vacants to Value turns vacant properties into “assets to the community”

“How do you bolster neighborhoods by shifting vacant properties into assets to the community?” For Alice Kennedy, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Housing and Community Development in Baltimore, Maryland, that’s the driving question behind the City’s Vacants to Value program.

Launched in 2010, Vacants to Value incentivizes redevelopment of abandoned properties by providing applicants with $10,000 toward closing costs and downpayment assistance for the purchase of a formerly vacant home, and allows buyers to build home renovation loans into their mortgage. To qualify for the incentive, the house must have been subject to a Vacant Building Notice for a year or more prior to its rehabilitation for a sale to a home buyer.  

Kennedy says the program strengthens communities by building on existing neighborhood assets. “We’re looking at continuing to highlight neighborhoods that often go overlooked,” Kennedy explains. “These areas are affordable with strong roots that are attractive to homebuyers. It’s important to highlight the amenities that currently exist in those neighborhoods.” 

Homebuyer and homeowner program designers – like Kennedy and her team at the City of Baltimore – recognize that homeownership is a key tool to create stable, high-quality, and mixed-income neighborhoods. “Community First,” a HUD-sponsored guidebook created by Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), synthesizes takeaways from leading programs across the United States to help program designers: 

  • understand their homebuyer market – their customers;
  • identify and address existing barriers to homeownership; and
  • establish appropriate programmatic approaches to attract and support buyers to invest in properties in targeted neighborhoods. 

To create this guidebook, MHP and Econometrica researched more than 300 homebuyer / homeowner programs nationwide. Vacants to Value, one standout program, targets local demand for affordable homeownership in a low-cost market. In a low-cost market, the fair market value of homes is affected by other less desirable market factors – including vacant properties or land. 

Photos from the Vacants to Value Facebook page

Building a program based on market type is just one of the considerations Community First prompts program designers to consider. Housing needs, target audiences, and soliciting robust community from the start – are other key markers of a successful program.  

By understanding the dynamics of a target market – and what clients want – program designers can create a holistic approach that creates access to opportunity, empowers economic mobility, and reinvests in communities. 

Access the Community First guidebook and download the one-pager.

Join the conversation on Twitter: #CommunityFirstTool