The president of the Baltimore NAACP called for the resignation of two city housing officials and said that Mayor Brandon Scott “needs to either step up and lead or step aside” following a Thursday night fire at a vacant building that damaged the adjacent offices of the civil rights organization.
Rev. Kobi Little said the blaze could have been avoided and was the result of the city failing to address dumping or to remediate or secure a vacant building at 2 West 26th St.
Little said his organization has raised concerns with the city of Baltimore “for years and saw no meaningful action.”
The NAACP contacted Scott about the problem as far back as 2021. Little said Scott put them in touch with Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy and Deputy Commissioner Jason Hessler, who is responsible for permits and litigation, but they “did not resolve the problem.”
The NAACP made “multiple complaints” and placed 311 calls after that, according to NAACP spokesman Joshua Harris.
Tammy Hawley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, said the city has “repeatedly sought to address issues at 2 West 26th St. within the confines of our authority under the law.”
“The vast majority of the remaining vacants in Baltimore City are privately owned, including 2 W 26th St.,” she wrote. “Due to ongoing issues with this property, we have already begun the receivership process.”
Hawley said the first trial date was set for this past Sept. 13, but it was rescheduled for Dec. 20. because the owners were absent.
“We cannot go around this legal process,” Hawley wrote. “More broadly, the fire at 2 W 26th St on October 5, 2023, is another tragic reminder of the importance of the urgent actions being taken to address vacant and abandoned buildings across Baltimore City.”
Hawley stressed that the city has reduced the number of vacant buildings since 2020 from 16,431 to 13,818, the lowest number in decades. She said the department has used a wide range of tools, from citations to condemnation, demolition, tax sale foreclosure, receivership and now judicial in rem foreclosure.
“Our comprehensive strategy for reducing vacants is working, and we are securing additional resources to expedite our progress,” she said, adding that officials would continue to strive to hold negligent property owners accountable and reduce the number of vacant properties.
She declined to address Little’s calls for top housing officials to resign.
Scott called the fire “an unfortunate incident,” and stressed that his administration has taken the issues involving this and other vacant buildings “very seriously.” He noted in a statement that after learning about the fire, he dispatched the city’s deputy housing commissioner for code enforcement to meet with Little and that the city has been seeking to put the property into receivership, or legal cusody.
“We’ve been working on tackling vacant properties with our partners across the city — because while we currently have the lowest number of vacants in Baltimore in decades, we still know the system has to move faster to legally allow us to address many of them,” the mayor added. “We invite Reverend Little and the NAACP to be a part of that work.”
The fire started in an adjoining vacant building, said Harris, the NAACP spokesperson. Damage to the Baltimore NAACP headquarters is still being assessed, Harris said, adding that “luckily” the damage was from just smoke and water at this point.
A Fire Department spokesperson could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
This is not the first time Little has been critical of Scott. Last month, Little criticized Scott’s lack of transparency in appointing a new police commissioner.