For sale in Belair-Edison: interracial living Neighborhood fights flight to suburbs, inroads by slumlords

April 27, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's editions about the Belair-Edison neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore incorrectly stated the date of the community's open house. It is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at 3412 Belair Road.

The Sun regrets the error.

Cruise the Internet to see how Belair-Edison in Northeast Baltimore touts its open house tomorrow.

Check tomorrow's paper for an ad marketing the old front-porch rowhouses -- immortalized in the movie "Avalon" -- for "all races, colors, religions and national origins."

As sure as the azaleas are blooming across from Herring Run Park, the selling of Belair-Edison is at full tilt.

For a decade, leaders in this sprawling community of 7,000 houses off Belair Road have been trying to prevent suburban flight and a takeover by slumlords.


Now, with the help of a $90,000 federal grant, Belair-Edison is promoting itself as an oasis of racial harmony in a city of segregated neighborhoods.

During the past year, the neighborhood has begun an ad campaign showing photos of black and white residents together. To improve race relations further, the community has organized more than 100 block captains for cleanups, picnics and youth activities.

It also is publishing a community newsletter with articles about blockbusting and housing discrimination.

And two weeks ago, Belair-Edison created a web site on the Internet, promoting its open house, a directory of businesses, housing services and newsletter. Next, the neighborhood hopes to add a photographic tour of the community on the web.

The sales strategy is an unusual one for a city neighborhood, said Don DeMarco, executive director of Fund for an OPEN Society, a national nonprofit mortgage organization that promotes racially integrated living.

"Most American cities, and certainly those in the Midwest and the Northeast, are very segregated," he said.

Mr. DeMarco applauded Belair-Edison's efforts but was skeptical the newspaper advertisements promoting integrated living. When people buy houses, he said, they first look for "safety, good schools, property values appreciating."

He does, however, agree that organizing every block into a small community will be invaluable to race relations and solving

neighborhood problems.

"The importance of having this in a community that promotes interracial living can't be overstated," he said.

Thirty years ago, the community was all white. But over the dec- ades, as many white families moved to the suburbs and the elderly died, the racial mix changed.

Today, the community is nearly 50 percent black, and community leaders say they want to keep it that way.

And, despite the city's reputation for being unsafe and for having deteriorating public schools, leaders think their efforts to stabilize the neighborhood are beginning to show results.

In spring 1993 and again in spring 1994, more than 230 houses were for sale in Belair-Edison. Last year at this time, 177 were for sale. And home sales to investors have decreased In recent years. (Houses sell from $40,000 to $60,000.)

"The idea of talking to your neighbor is almost a radical idea to some people," said Barbara Aylesworth, director of Belair Edison Housing Services, which helps homebuyers find houses and financing in the community.

She and other community leaders hope the simple act of bringing neighbors together will keep the community stable and improve race relations.

Maxine Hudley has lived in the community for 20 years. She and her husband were the second black family to move to their block on Gladden Avenue.

The block is now 85 percent black, but neighbors hardly knew each other until she formed a block club last year.

Now, Mrs. Hudley has them turning on their porch lights at night to deter crime, planning a citizen patrol and putting out a newsletter.

"When you're out in the alley together picking up papers, the fear goes away," said Debbie Straka, president of the Belair-Edison Community Association.

Rebecca Sigler came to the neighborhood five years ago from Baltimore County.

"When I first started looking in the city, my friends said, 'You can't live in the city. It isn't safe. You won't like it,' " Ms. Sigler said.

She lives across from Herring Run Park, where she can hear the stream in the summer -- and where she even caught a glimpse of a great blue heron from her window.

She also coordinates block captains in Belair-Edison and is one of the neighborhood's biggest boosters.

She has found the community to be "a better mix of people. It's more like the real world. You have the opportunity to be exposed to different types of people."

At Belair-Edison's fourth annual open house today, prospective homebuyers will be shown 50 houses that are on the market.

Herbert Duberry Jr. plans to come from the suburbs to take a look.

Mr. Duberry grew up in Govans and lives with his wife and three children in Columbia, where they rent an apartment.

He remembers Belair-Edison when it was all-white and he used to run cross-country in the park as a high school student more than 20 years ago.

He said that although city schools are not as good as those in Howard County, the rowhouses in Belair-Edison sell for half the price of modern townhouses in Columbia.

"Recently, I've been through the area, and I've noticed more blacks, and I thought I might like to live there," said Mr. Duberry, who is black.

Belair-Edison information can been obtained by calling Belair-Edison Housing Services at 485-8422.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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