Can Sandtown-Winchester be turned around?
This 72-square-block area bounded by Monroe Street, North Avenue and by Pennsylvania, Fremont and Lafayette avenues is one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Once a stable neighborhood, it has steadily deteriorated over the years. It now has all the problems of an inner-city area -- drug-dealing, vacant and boarded-up houses and massive unemployment. Yet Sandtown-Winchester is home to 12,000 people, many of whom want to continue to live there.
At a time of declining federal grants and budget crunches at state and local levels, Sandtown-Winchester is the site of an ambitious improvement effort that joins governments with private organizations. More than $45 million is being spent there to construct new homes, renovate existing public housing projects, provide job training and a variety of social services.
The $23 million Nehemiah housing initiative -- constructing 300 town houses for eventual sale to low-income families -- is a key element of that program. So is the $13.3 million renovation of 589 units of public housing at the Gilmor Homes.
A new facet of that drive is about to start. Today, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are scheduled to kick off a fund-raising campaign here to restore 100 dilapidated brick houses in the area over the next five years. Under the arrangement, the city will donate the empty housing shells while volunteers from Habitat for Humanity -- including the presidential couple and the families buying the homes -- will perform the work needed to rehabilitate them.
"Fit and affordable housing is the first step -- the essential beginning to transforming the disgraceful, deteriorated conditions that mark our cities," says developer James W. Rouse, one of the initiators of Habitat in Baltimore and a major force behind the Sandtown-Winchester initiative through his non-profit Enterprise Foundation.
There are no easy solutions to the many complicated problems in an area like Sandtown-Winchester. But what is happening there now is a start -- and the best chance for the neighborhood in years to reclaim itself.