Marvin Hill escorted his grandmother up three recently poured concrete steps and over the threshold of his home. Then the neighborhood was invited in for punch and cookies.
The place where Hill used to rummage for aluminum and tin cans to sell for pocket change is now his back yard. The corner once known for drug deals and discarded booze bottles is now Hill's driveway.
"This used to be a junkyard," Hill said yesterday, minutes after a ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the opening of the new project called Sandtown Manor. "But there's big growth in the community again."
Hill and his family celebrated the rebirth of his Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood by christening their new townhouse that is part of a nine-home development at Stricker and Laurens streets. The project is part of a federal, state and city effort to revitalize the West Baltimore neighborhood.
Hill, 43, and his grandmother Ethel Payne, 91, are members of a family that has lived in the Sandtown-Winchester area for 51 years. Crime and other problems have forced many residents to move out of the neighborhood or, as Payne said, "to just don't go out."
But the arrival of the modular town homes has sparked excitement and community pride.
Neighbors marveled at Hill's three bedrooms with lots of closet space, his roomy bathroom and eat-in kitchen with wooden cabinets. They also loved his brown shag carpeting and mahogany-colored banister.
"We have made quite a commitment to the Sandtown-Winchester area," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who attended the ceremony. "Every social problem you can imagine could be found in this particular area: alcohol, drugs, high teen pregnancy rates, illiteracy and lead paint. On the other hand, there were some strong families, too. This shows very visibly how a vacant lot can be turned into a residential area."
The townhouses are the first of what is planned to be a 300-home development for low-income residents, Schmoke said. Rents are $300 a month and eligible residents earn $13,000 to $32,000 a year.