A model for the future of public housing Murphy Homes: Taking a cue from the private sector, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has set up a furnished model to show prospective tenants.

Urban Landscape

February 06, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE'S leaders are just beginning to plan redevelopment of the George B. Murphy Homes -- one of several public housing communities around the city targeted for reconstruction by 2000 -- but they're already using it to offer a glimpse into the future of public housing.

Inside a two-story rowhouse at 810 George St., the Housing Authority of Baltimore City recently opened a furnished model that gives prospective tenants an idea of the spaces that will be available in the new Murphy Homes and how they can be furnished.

On the west side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard north of Franklin Street, the towers of Murphy Homes will be demolished late next year to make way for a low-rise community similar to the ones planned to replace Lafayette Courts in East Baltimore and Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore.

The model apartment on George Street "gives us an opportunity to show our residents what the future can be like," said the Housing Authority's executive director, Daniel P. Henson III. "We want to show residents that a quality living environment is accessible if they work at it."

It is common for developers of privately financed homes and apartments to create furnished models as marketing tools.

This is the first time that a furnished model has been set up in any of Baltimore's public housing developments -- and it may be one of the first such instances in the country. Henson says it is part of an effort by the Housing Authority to learn from the private sector and be more entrepreneurial.

"A major goal of the new HABC is to ensure that all of its units are competitive with comparable private-sector housing," he said. "This project launches a new way that HABC will do business in the future."

The model is a means of educating public housing residents, too, said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"It will also serve as a place where current residents will be able to participate in workshops and take beneficial design and decorating information with them to their homes," he said.

The model was the brainstorm of the Baltimore chapter of The Links, a nonprofit association of professional women dedicated to promoting human welfare.

Each year, women seeking to join the organization are required to undertake a community service project. The new Links members who worked on the Murphy Homes model were: Carla Hayden, director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library; Beatrice Taylor, director of education for Port Discovery, the proposed downtown children's museum; and Joyce Knox, a local attorney.

They approached Henson with the idea of creating a model apartment that could show how low-income residents can furnish an apartment attractively even on a restricted budget.

Henson, who worked as a private homebuilder before he became head of the Housing Authority, embraced the idea. He said he always wanted to create a model apartment to promote public housing, and he recommended that it be created at Murphy Homes because "it's always been difficult to lease up, and I always thought it would be a good place to live."

Henson further recommended that the Links project team decorate a rowhouse, rather than a high-rise apartment, because all of the high-rises are slated for demolition and rowhouses will be constructed in their place.

Murphy Homes is the third of four communities that have been targeted for redevelopment in Baltimore. Towers at Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace already have been demolished. Flag House Courts, on the east side of downtown, is the fourth community that will be rebuilt.

A team headed by A&R Development Corp. and the Enterprise Foundation has been selected to plan the replacement housing for Murphy Homes.

To furnish the three-bedroom apartment, the Links members sought advice from Joy Owens, head of her own interior design firm in Baltimore and sister of housing chief Henson. Working on a pro bono basis, Owens came up with an eclectic mix of furnishings that provides a wealth of decorating ideas.

Owens said she found many of the large pieces at secondhand shops and combined them with accessories from discount retailers such as Value City, Ames, Marshall's and T. J. Maxx.

Bargains used in the model apartment, she said, include bedroom curtains that cost 99 cents and stove-burner covers that cost $1.50. She also made creative use of plants and wall hangings to fill empty spaces.

Because some items were donated, the total cost of furnishing the model was less than $1,500, she said.

Open since last month, the model is managed by members of the Housing Authority's Resident Advisory Board and the Murphy Homes tenant council and housing manager.

In many ways it sums up the philosophy of the Links organization, which strives to create "linkages toward the possible," said Baltimore chapter President Minnie Smoot. "We think we can do anything if we link with the right people."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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