Blockchain Innovation Targets Baltimore’s Vacant Housing Crisis
In 2022, Ebony Thompson, now the city solicitor for Baltimore, embarked on a mission to tackle the city’s vacant housing crisis. Prompted by the tragic deaths of three firefighters in a collapsed abandoned row house, Mayor Brandon Scott urged all agencies to contribute solutions. Thompson, drawing from her knowledge of blockchain technology gained at MIT, proposed a revolutionary approach to use blockchain for real estate transactions. After two years of advocacy, Mayor Scott recently announced a three-year pilot program to record the city’s 13,600 vacant properties on the blockchain.
The Genesis of the Idea: A Response to Crisis
Innovative Solution Amid Crisis:
Ebony Thompson, recalling the pivotal moment in 2022, narrates how she took Mayor Scott’s call seriously, leveraging her blockchain knowledge to propose a practical solution. Her vision involved utilizing blockchain to streamline real estate transactions, particularly focusing on combating vacant housing efficiently.
Educating Officials on Blockchain:
Thompson faced initial skepticism as she presented the idea to city officials. Responding to queries about cryptocurrency, she clarified that it wasn’t about cryptocurrency but rather the underlying technology. Despite the skepticism, she persisted, eventually securing support for her innovative proposal.
Detailed Insight into the Pilot Program:
Mayor Scott’s recent announcement of the three-year pilot program marks a significant milestone in the implementation of blockchain technology. The program aims to record all 13,600 vacant properties in Baltimore on the blockchain. This strategic move is expected to revolutionize the city’s approach to dealing with vacant buildings and enhance overall efficiency.
Efficiency Gains Through Blockchain:
Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy explained the practical implications by using the city’s interactive community development map. By recording property information on the blockchain, the city anticipates expediting processes such as title examinations, which are crucial in acquiring and repurposing vacant buildings. The secure and unchangeable nature of blockchain records is expected to accelerate transactions, potentially saving both time and money in title search and insurance costs.
Blockchain as Part of a Comprehensive Strategy:
While the blockchain initiative is a pivotal aspect of the city’s plan, it is just one element in a comprehensive $3 billion strategy to combat blight in Baltimore. The city is actively hiring title attorneys to facilitate quicker property acquisitions and launching a bond program to subsidize redevelopment efforts. Despite progress in reducing the official number of vacant buildings by 14% in the last three years, challenges persist, as evidenced by a visit to a vacant property on Myrtle Ave.
The Human Element in Vacant Housing:
A visit to Myrtle Ave revealed the stark reality of vacant properties, symbolizing broader challenges faced by Baltimore. Charles Dugger, a resident with a family history dating back to 1912, expressed the deep-rooted impact of historical injustices, including redlining, on Black neighborhoods. He emphasized the need for addressing systemic issues beyond technological solutions.
Hope for Progress:
While acknowledging that technology alone cannot rectify historical wrongs, the city aims to utilize innovations like blockchain to expedite processes and contribute to the larger goal of neighborhood revitalization. The hope is that by leveraging technology, Baltimore can make strides in overcoming historical challenges and fostering a more equitable and vibrant community.