Baltimore Has 16,000 Vacant Homes, And She Plans To Get Them Black Owners

Baltimore row houses
Via Flickr
Graciella Maiolatesi
May 28, 2022

In 2017, carpenter Shelley Halstead saw the nearly abandoned Etting Street – one of Baltimore’s oldest Black neighborhoods – and refused to let the city demolish it. She founded Black Women Build-Baltimore (BWB-B), a nonprofit that buys and renovates abandoned homes, then sells them at affordable prices to Black women.

After deliberating with banks, BWB-B bought four damaged homes for $5,000 – TOTAL!

Part of BWB-B’s renovation process is training Black women in carpentry, electrical, and plumbing, with participants receiving a city-approved Home Ownership Counseling Certificate. Participants work on renovations with BWB-B and the women planning to purchase the homes. 

Renovations included, the first homeowner’s house cost only $80,000! But there were setbacks.

Banks denied the homeowner’s mortgage application. BWB-B convinced them to make the loan.

Other issues came from historic tension. In 1910, the nearby town of Bolton Hill passed America’s first legal housing segregation law. But recently, Bolton Hill’s Church paid $15,000 to BWB-B as reparations!

In 2019, roughly 2,193 people experienced homelessness in Baltimore – 71% were Black. Ironically, Baltimore had over 16,000 vacant homes. 

The seven homes renovated by BWB-B as of 2022 are a small dent in that number, but a significant one.

She’s not intimidated. “The only way we are going to succeed is if we stick by each other and we do it together,” Halstead explained.

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