New life for a dying community

July 31, 1995

The prospect of turning around troubled neighborhoods can be so daunting that it's easy to give up before even trying. A big part of the problem is that government alone can't save them. It just doesn't have the resources to rebuild communities from the top down. Even if it did, it's arguable whether government should be in the redevelopment business.

But government can make it easier and more attractive for private companies to rebuild blightedneighborhoods. And when the public and private sectors make a coordinated effort, such places can change. What's happening at the Valley Brook Apartments in Glen Burnie, for example, shows how such a cooperative arrangement can work.

Valley Brook had been a crime-plagued complex until two years ago, when county police cracked down hard on the drug dealers who hung out in the parking lot. The anti-drug effort appears to have worked. But better law enforcement is only one ingredient in the recipe for a healthy neighborhood. A place that looks as run-down as Valley Brook and offers residents nothing but a roof over their heads won't generate a sense of community.

At Valley Brook, the Corcoran Jennison Co. ofBoston is stripping everything from the kitchen cabinets to the roofs to the complex's name. (It's now the "Villages at Marley Station.") The firm is not only making cosmetic and structural changes, it's giving residents such amenities as a pool, a fitness center, an intercom-entry system and a community service center to help them with day-care and other needs. It is helping them set up a community association, paying off-duty county police officers to patrol the property and setting up summer programs for kids. Corcoran Jennison is turning a shoddy apartment complex into a place where people can feel good about where they live -- and safe.

The Boston firm, nationally known for rehabilitating troubled neighborhoods, can afford such an elaborate renovation partly because of help from all three levels of government -- state-authorized tax credits, tax-exempt county mortgage revenue bonds, and federal guarantees. These incentives do cost taxpayers something, but without public participation no company could afford to renovate Valley Brook. When that happens, we all end up footing a much larger bill for the social problems that breed in bad neighborhoods.

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