BALTIMORE — Mark Council knows a thing or two about Baltimore. In his 55 years here, he’s lived numerous lives. He’s been a cook. He’s been a mechanic. And now he’s a homeless person, a position that’s afforded him his closest view yet of a problem that’s eating the city from the inside.
Council, a stocky man with a beard flecked with gray, sees the vacant houses on his way to the homeless shelter. The gutted facades are inescapable, he says, blanketing entire city blocks. He peers up at them and can’t help but feel frustrated.
“I look at all of these vacant houses, and I’m like, ‘I could be living in one of these houses,’ ” Council said. “I think, ‘We all, all the homeless, could be living in one of those houses.’ ”
Council has had enough. So he’s joined Housing Our Neighbors, a group that trumpets an innovative solution used across the country that it says would ensure affordable housing for vulnerable residents. Vacant housing, the group says, presents a “unique opportunity” to turn Baltimore’s blight into a boon. Although the city has historically had difficulty rehabilitating poor neighborhoods and critics question the plan’s feasibility, the group says the urgency couldn’t be greater.