Mayor pledges changes in Sandtown

March 07, 1993|By Michael Fletcher | Michael Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke capped a day of celebration in Sandtown-Winchester yesterday by pledging to see to it that every boarded-up house -- and there are many -- in the neighborhood is renovated within one year.

"We're going to do our part," Mr. Schmoke said. "We're going to get the name of every private property owner in Sandtown and talk to them about their responsibility. We'll tell them, 'If you don't want to be a responsible landlord, then give us the property.' "

Barbara Bostick, executive director of the Sandtown-Winchester Task Force, said 600 vacant properties -- some owned by the city -- dot the neighborhood, which stretches across 72 square blocks of West Baltimore.

"I think we can do it. The whole community can. The city government by itself can't do it," Mr. Schmoke said. "But with the help of the community, I know we can do it."

The mayor's pledge came during a program where 200 residents of Sandtown-Winchester came together to ratify their city-backed plan to transform their neighborhood from one of Baltimore's poorest and most hopeless into a model for rebuilding inner-city America.

The plan, unveiled yesterday during a celebration of changes already in place in the neighborhood, envisions a wide range of services needed to build community spirit and know-how to make the neighborhood more attractive to live in.

Among the ideas:

* Creating a community corporation to develop low-cost housing and coordinate education, health, economic development and other programs in the community.

* Establishing a housing information clearing house.

* Setting up health clinics in local schools.

* Developing an outreach program to refer residents to health care services.

* Establishing a center to recruit, train and place neighborhood volunteers.

* Expanding block-watch and community policing programs to better involve residents in battling crime.

All of this would seem meaningless, were it not for the progress already made in Sandtown-Winchester.

In the past four years, the city, the Enterprise Foundation and community residents, have come together to lavish a remarkable array of resources on the neighborhood.

The $17 million Nehemiah Housing Program has built more than 200 new homes in the neighborhood. The city received some $13 million in federal money to renovate Gilmor Homes, a 589-unit low-rise public housing project in the neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity is moving on plans to renovate 100 vacant houses in the area over five years. Those homes will be affordable to people making as little as $10,000 a year.

Longtime eyesores, including the abandoned Frederick Douglass High School and an old bakery, have been removed.

The changes have been more than physical.

A prenatal outreach program and a host of other services are available at the Mount Street Community Center. Drug treatment programs were established. And a private company is running two neighborhood schools, Harlem Park elementary and middle schools.

"There has been a foundation laid," said Leonard Jackson, a longtime Sandtown-Winchester resident who is active in planning for the community. "We know that is just to support this thing. Now, how do we make the neighborhood what it is supposed to be?"

That's where the neighborhood plan comes in.

Mr. Schmoke said he is optimistic that many of the services envisioned by the residents can be provided at little cost. Much of what needs to happen is to better coordinate programs already in place, he added.

What's critical if Sandtown-Winchester is to be transformed, he said, is the continued involvement of community residents.

James W. Rouse, the developer who created the Enterprise Foundation, said that if the people of Sandtown-Winchester are successful in turning their once desperate community into a beautiful place where low-income people can afford to live, they will be taking "a step unknown in the history of this country."

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