“This is the ghetto. That’s what people think.” So says Sam, a 64-year-old handyman living on Penrose Avenue in Baltimore.

The street is lined with brick and faux-stone rowhouses typical of the city. Marble steps lead up to every front door. There was a time when the steps were a sparkling white. Sam earned money washing them for his neighbors as a boy.

The marble steps on Penrose are a sullen gray now, catching the litter that blows up against them. The empty houses on Sam’s street are but a few of the 16,000 vacant homes in Baltimore awaiting renovation, or more likely, demolition.

The city recently fined Sam $50 for keeping a messy backyard that is mostly filled with ladders and the tools of his trade. But Sam says the city seems indifferent to the mountain of trash and old furniture spilling into the alley from the abandoned house next door.

And the next house down is even worse.



A full-grown tree rises through the first and second stories, towering above its neighbors. Sam hasn’t paid the $50 fine yet.

“It’s not fair,” he says, waving an arm toward the blight and the tree next door.