The streets often need patching, some houses need a face lift and crime is a menacing problem, but many Baltimore residents love their neighborhoods anyway, according to a federal government housing survey being released today.
In fact, fully 20 percent of Baltimore householders rate their neighborhoods as the best, the survey shows.
A plurality of city residents give their neighborhood an 8 on a scale in which 1 is worst and 10 is best. Only 26 percent rate the place where they live as average or below.
"People have a lot of pride in their neighborhoods, even where there are acknowledged problems like drug-dealing," said Kevin Jordan, a community organizer with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.
"When you live in a place for 20 years, you get used to it, and it's part of you," he added. "And things aren't as bad [in city neighborhoods] as people from the outside perceive them to be."
The portrait of neighborhood pride comes from the American Housing Survey, a 1991 study of the Baltimore metropolitan area. The statistical compendium offers the most detailed look available at people's abodes, based on a survey of more than 3,600 homes.
The survey, jointly prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, includes everything from cooking fuel (we're cooking with gas, naturally, although electricity is gaining fast) to broken plaster and peeling paint (which mar an estimated 42,400 area households).
Throughout the metro area, the prime neighborhood ills are other people, crime, noise, traffic, and litter and deteriorating housing, in that order. Inconsiderate or ill-behaved neighbors are the No. 1 problem everywhere, according to the survey, which doesn't elaborate on exactly which boorish habits raise most hackles on the average block.
In Baltimore County, traffic is the No. 2 complaint. In Anne Arundel, it's noise, although the survey doesn't specify whether the main source of the disturbance is low-flying airplanes, passing trucks, neighborhood boom-boxes or something else. (No breakdowns are given for other counties where survey samples are too small to be valid.)
In Baltimore, crime ranks No. 2 among neighborhood maladies. Some 24 percent of city householders report a neighborhood crime problem.
But Betty Martin, a community activist for a quarter-century in the Lyndhurst section of West Baltimore, says people offer crime-prevention solutions as well as problems. Dedicated volunteers in her neighborhood make possible youth programs such as a dramatics group and an all-night read-a-thon.
"We do have kids loitering on the corners, and there are drugs everywhere [in the metro area]," she says. "But the pride overshadows the problems."
The Baltimore metropolitan area, which includes the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's counties, had 885,200 occupied housing units in 1991.
Nearly half were single-family detached homes, 30 percent were rowhouses (or townhouses, where that is the preferred nomenclature), and the rest were apartments, condominiums, cooperatives and some 13,800 mobile homes.
Homeowners outnumber renters in the Baltimore area nearly 2 to 1. Not surprisingly, owners generally have higher annual
household incomes ($44,600 vs. $23,700) and live in more spacious digs.
The typical homeowner in metropolitan Baltimore has a 2,195-square-foot, three-bedroom home on a third of an acre. The median renter must be content with two bedrooms and one bath in a 1,500-square-foot unit.
Renters as a group devote 27 percent of their income for housing costs, compared to 19 percent for Baltimore area homeowners.
In general, the number of bedrooms in a household are a good guide to its income. The more bedrooms, the higher the income. Median household incomes range from $18,638 for one-bedroom households to $58,606 for those with four bedrooms or more.
Some 70,500 new housing units were added to the Baltimore area's stock from 1987 to 1991. They are bigger homes (a median size of 2,375 square feet) on bigger lots (.37 acre) with bigger expenses ($1,055 a month, including mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities).
The city has by far the oldest housing stock in the area (its median home was built in 1941), the largest proportion of low-income residents and the most complaints about housing and neighborhood conditions.
More than half of city residents say their streets need at least minor repairs. Nearly 10 percent of Baltimore's housing units report considerable physical deterioration. More than 20,000 city homes showed signs of rat infestation in the three months before the survey was taken.
Black residents, who generally lag behind whites in income, also occupy lower-quality housing. Less than 19 percent of black households in the metro area live in single-family detached homes, compared to 47 percent of all residents. Nearly half of blacks live in rowhouses.
Blacks in the metro area are twice as likely as whites to be renters and three times as likely to have houses with physical defects.
As a group, blacks occupy older housing stock and are newer to homeownership than whites. While sale of a previous home was a major source of a down payment for one-third of area homeowners overall, only 11 percent of black owners were able to draw on that source of cash. More than 7 in 10 black homeowners are first-time owners.
Blacks were also more likely to live as extended families. Nearly half of the 31,800 households in which three generations of a family lived together were black.