Poor living near Hopkins fear renewal may force them out

February 07, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Eric Siegel | Melody Simmons and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Some poor residents who live in the decrepit neighborhoods surrounding the Johns Hopkins medical institutions had a mixed reaction to a new plan by the city, the state and Johns Hopkins to revitalize a tract of about 180 square blocks in East Baltimore in an effort to attract tens of millions of dollars in federal development money over the next few years.

The residents said today they would welcome change to their drug- and crime-infested streets, but are wary that gentrification may force them to move out.

"I believe that is what's going to happen," said Catherine Williams, who has lived in the 700 block of N. Chester St. for 44 years. "They want to build more and different parts of the hospital. They make it look good, but they want to move us out. People are worried about that. We don't have no place to go. We can't just jump up and move out."

The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition was created Friday to improve housing, to foster business development and jobs and to improve social services in the decayed neighborhoods around Hopkins Hospital. The area -- which also includes the Somerset and Douglass Homes housing projects and Dunbar High School -- is more than twice the size and has four times as many residents as West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester, which is in the midst of its own heralded revitalization effort.

The coalition was set up with separate $150,000 grants from the city, the state and Hopkins medical institutions, for a total of $450,000. It will seek development money in the form of government grants and private investment. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Friday that the East Baltimore effort, along with Sandtown-Winchester, would help the city in the competition to be named one of nine federal empowerment zones, a designation that would bring $100 million in new money from the federal government.

Mr. Schmoke also said it would help Baltimore retain the Hopkins medical institutions, which have a combined budget of more than $1 billion a year and have more than 11,000 faculty, students and staff.

"Both [the city and the state] are concerned about whether Hopkins is going to stay and flourish," he said.

Residents and Johns Hopkins employees said this morning that radical change is needed in the neighborhood pockmarked by violent crime, trash-strewn streets, numerous vacant rowhouses and rats.

"As you can tell, it's a major slum," said Patty Haley, a computer technician who works for Hopkins. "It's unusual not to see someone get arrested once a week."

Ms. Haley said she and other Hopkins employees are constantly frightened by the crime that has overtaken the streets surrounding the hospital.

"We've heard the gunshots," she said. "I think this is the second most dangerous neighborhood in Baltimore city."

Kenny Hall, who has lived in the 2300 block of Ashland Ave. for almost 15 years, said the community is in dire need of help to stop the drug and crime problems.

"People need jobs, they are hungry and the only available funds to them is hustle money. Then they become a victim of their own product," Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Hall said he also believes that the Hopkins hospital will displace some poor residents if the gentrification takes place.

"Eventually, Hopkins will have all of this anyway," he said. "A lot of people near the (Northeast Market) area have buildings up there just sitting with nothing in them. They are waiting for Hopkins to move in."

Richard Grossi, senior associate dean of the Hopkins School of Medicine, said community residents will be included in each phase of the rejuvenation effort.

"None of what we've done to date has been toward that end (to force residents to move out)," Mr. Grossi said. "Everything we've done is to make East Baltimore better for the current residents of East Baltimore. This is not a Hopkins plan, it's a redevelopment plan done in partnership with the community. We are very sensitive to the issues the community has raised."

Quinell Leach, 34, a renter who has lived at Broadway and Ashland for nearly four years, said she is terrified to leave her apartment after dusk. A community rejuvenation, she said, would make the area safer.

"I'm afraid somebody might jump me and might think I have some money. They might hurt me," she said.

Dr. James A. Block, president and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health Systems, said Hopkins is providing seed money for the organization because "we are an integral part of this community. We're interested in seeing further development around the hospital."

The effort will benefit Hopkins employees, many of whom live near the hospital, and also will help the hospital continue to draw patients by making it safer and more attractive, Dr. Block said. "There are many advantages to everyone that we continue to be successful. It's important that we work with the community to enhance the environment in which we work."

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