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Baltimore System Provides Instant Info on Vacant Homes

The city put a QR Code on the front of every vacant house. Realtors, neighbors and curious onlookers can quickly find out who owns the property via their cellphone.

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Hundreds of QR codes have appeared on boarded-up homes throughout Baltimore over the past month, as part of a city effort to help residents seeking information on vacant properties.

Last year, the Baltimore City Council moved to require housing officials to place signs on the city’s roughly 15,600 vacant properties, about 1,350 of which are city-owned, advertising how neighbors can access information about each one.

When scanned, a QR code on the signs directs residents to a preexisting Department of Housing and Community Development page, where they can search for ownership information and other records. The signs also direct residents to call 410-396-0896 to access the information, or dial 311 if the property needs to be cleaned or boarded.

The signs could be a boon for activists eager to inform communities about vacant properties, and for neighbors seeking contact information for owners when problems arise. But reaching owners can prove challenging, and that’s just the first step in a long process aimed at reducing blighted property.

As of June 29, city officials had placed the signs on 655 vacant properties, said Tammy Hawley, spokeswoman for the city’s housing department. Code enforcers have been placing signs on the relevant properties while making their rounds, Hawley said. Originally, the bill called for property owners to place the signs themselves or face daily fines. But officials cited logistical problems with that requirement.

The department is hopeful the signs will raise awareness among city residents about the challenges of tackling vacancies and blight.

“We think that this helps everyone understand what we’re up against with these absent owners,” Hawley said.

“It’s not about shaming,” Hawley said. “It’s about pride in our city.”

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