“Most people just assumed that for somebody to go into some of the neighborhoods I spend a lot of time in, that I would be this large, burly, tough sort of man,” says Carol Ott. “Well, no, I’m just a 45-year-old mother of two who thinks that our city deserves a little bit better.”
Ott is the person behind Baltimore Slumlord Watch, a website dedicated to documenting every abandoned property in Baltimore. She’s also the director of a new organization called Housing Policy Watch, which means that thinking about blight is Ott’s full-time job.
Like many cities in America, Baltimore struggles with a high vacancy rate. Official counts put the number of abandoned properties at 16,000, but the actual number may be twice that. How that happened is a complicated story, but what Ott thinks matters now is accountability—which is why she publicly lists the names and addresses of absentee owners on her site.
The Atlantic Video team recently spent a day in West Baltimore with Ott as she walked the streets in search of vacants. “I have no grand illusion of myself coming in and saving neighborhoods, that’s ridiculous,” she says. “But I really need to now see this to some sort of end.”