Roughly Speaking podcast: What Baltimore data — from birth rates to block parties — says about the city

Vital Signs 15, a comprehensive statistical portrait of Baltimore and its neighborhoods, marks 15 years of continuous monitoring of community-based quality of life indicators. The 15th edition of the report, published by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI), tracks more than 100 indicators that “take the pulse” of neighborhood health and vitality. The report, along with new indicators and several data visualization aids, is available now on BNIA-JFI’s updated website.

Seema D. Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute in the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, said the release of Vital Signs 15 is more relevant than ever as neighborhoods try to manage change and the City of Baltimore tries to support the local vision of all neighborhoods.

“Neighborhoods are continually changing,” Iyer added. “To better understand how various trends impact quality of life, residents, businesses, and city agencies use these data in order to proactively take action to support or potentially reverse those trends.”

Vital Signs 15 comprises a well-defined set of both long-standing and newly emerging issues that are important for understanding Baltimore’s unique neighborhoods. Highlights include:

Changing Demographics

Vital Signs 15 provides the first glimpse of demographic change since 2010, due to the latest release of data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey. Overall, between 2010 and 2015, the percent of African-American and white population declined while the percent of Asian-American and Hispanic population increased.

  • Baltimore’s overall racial diversity index increased slightly from 54.5 to 55.5. As of 2015, 6 out of the 55 communities that comprise Baltimore City consist of people where no one racial or ethnic group has a majority (Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point, Downtown/Seton Hill, Greater Charles Village/Barclay, Orangeville/East Highlandtown, Patterson Park North & East, Southeastern).
  • Adjusting for inflation, the median household income in Baltimore increased from $41,686 from 2006-2010 to $42,241 from 2011-2015. The CSAs that experienced the greatest increases in median household income over the two periods were South Baltimore (+$21,547), Canton (+$14,172) and Fells Point (+$12,565).

Understanding Housing Affordability

Following national trends in other metropolitan areas, the percentage of renter households is increasing in Baltimore. However, rent affordability is a burden for more than 50 percent of Baltimore renter households, and the neighborhoods with higher rates also have high rates of housing voucher use.

  • In 2015, more than 66 percent of households in Belair-Edison, Washington Village/Pigtown and Madison/East End spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent costs. These same three communities had the highest rates of housing choice voucher utilization, more than two times the citywide average. With median sales prices of homes below the citywide average, the fact that renters are housing burdened is a function of the higher demand for moderately-priced rental units in Baltimore.

Although some neighborhoods are experiencing housing pressure, in many others, the supply of housing in Baltimore today greatly outnumbers current demand which, over many decades, has resulted in deferred maintenance of residential properties and ultimately abandonment.

  • Between 2014 and 2015, the percentage of homes receiving a vacant house notice (VHN) in Baltimore City increased from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent.

A Difficult Year in Crime

After many years of positive trends, the summer of 2015 was marked by spikes in homicides and violence crimes, the severity of which hadn’t been experienced in years. While crime rates soared, adult and juvenile arrests declined.

  • In 2015, there were 344 homicides in Baltimore City, up from 211 in 2014.
  • Between 2014 and 2015, the Part I crime rate in Baltimore City increased from 60.5 offenses per 1,000 residents to 65.1 offenses per 1,000 residents. The subset of Part I crimes that make up the violent crime rate increased as well, from 13.7 violent offenses per 1,000 residents to 16.1 per 1,000 persons.
  • Conversely, the arrest rate for adults was dramatically lower in 2015 than in the previous year. Between 2014 and 2015, the arrest rate in Baltimore City decreased from 48.7 to 30.9 arrests per 1,000 residents aged 18 and above. In 2015, the CSAs with the highest arrest rates were Downtown/Seton Hill (127.8 arrests per 1,000), Washington Village/Pigtown (107.0), and Southwest Baltimore (106.1).

Youth Engagement and Neighborhood Context

In response to the civil unrest in 2015, there was a concerted effort by the City and local organizations to improve job access and increase employment opportunities for Baltimore City residents. These efforts were largely directed towards residents from neighborhoods affected by the violence particularly young people ages 16-24.

  • Based on the 2011-2015 American Community Survey, 81.0 percent of the persons aged 16-19 were either in school and/or employed, which is a decline from 86.0 prcent during 2006-2010.
  • The percentage of students 16 or above who withdrew from Baltimore City public schools increased from 2.0 percent to 3.7 percent between the 2014 and 2015 school years.
  • Many neighborhoods with large numbers of high school students in the public school system also have high rates of housing vacancy, such as Greater Rosemont, Southwest Baltimore and Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park.

In total, Vital Signs 15 is a compilation of “big data.” There are more than 100 indicators for each of Baltimore’s 55 community statistical areas, which translate to more than 5,000 data points in the latest edition of the study. The report is also rooted in “open data”: All of the indicators, maps and report chapters from Vital Signs are freely accessible online for anyone to use in a variety of innovative ways. BNIA-JFI is currently working with city government to upload Vital Signs data on the OpenBaltimore data portal.

BNIA-JFI also hosts an annual workshop, Baltimore Data Day, in which community leaders, nonprofit organizations, governmental entities and civic-minded “hackers” come together to analyze the latest trends in community-based data, technology and tools, and learn how other groups are using data to support and advance constructive change. This year’s workshop will take place on July 14 at the University of Baltimore’s William H. Thumel Sr. Business Center (home of the Merrick School of Business), 21 W. Mt. Royal Ave.

The complete Vital Signs reports, along with a separate executive summary, data, maps and other research by BNIA-JFI, are available at