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Abandoned homes can be dangerous. How can cities fight blight?

A man rides a bike past boarded up row houses in the Broadway East neighborhood on October 14, 2020, in Baltimore, Maryland. - Demon Lane says his east Baltimore neighborhood will still be blighted by drug dealing, deadly gunfire, rat-infested vacant houses and hopelessness, no matter who wins America's presidential election in November. His area is overwhelmingly Black, deeply poor and devastated by decades of neglect, which stands in stark contrast to the pricey condos, new stores and safe streets a few miles away in overwhelmingly white and affluent areas.

There’s a strange but alarming genre of local news story that keeps popping up: abandoned house fires.

In just the past week, a three-alarm fire destroyed a vacant church in Portland. Then a vacant home caught on fire in Baton Rouge. In San Antonio, an abandoned duplex fire was so bad it spread to the house next door – forcing the neighbors there to leave.

During the winter, these vacant homes are an increased fire threat to the community and firefighters.

In the U.S., more than 15 million apartments and houses sit vacant. But vacant homes are more than deathly fire hazards – they’ve been linked to heightened rates of crime and community decline.

We discuss why these abandoned homes exist, what problems they cause, and what communities can do to reclaim some of these spaces.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

June Leffler, Michelle Harven