Plan takes aim at blight 900 vacant houses in East Baltimore to be razed or repaired

'A significant change'

$34.1 million allotted in effort to redevelop troubled areas

October 16, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In an ambitious attempt to redevelop blighted, near-vacant neighborhoods, about 900 rowhouses throughout East Baltimore will be torn down or repaired and sold under a plan that marks the beginning of what could be the largest revitalization of poor communities in the city.

Yesterday, the Board of Estimates unanimously approved spending $1.7 million, the first chunk of the $34.1 million allotted to the project. Under the plan, which has been in the works since 1995, huge blocks of rowhouses would be acquired. About 400 would be demolished, and 500 more would be rehabilitated and sold.

The vacant houses, all of which are more than 50 years old, are in disrepair.

City leaders say the landscape of Baltimore's troubled inner city would be dramatically altered. They say the revitalization plan would reduce the density of the neighborhoods, create parks and green space, attract mixed-income residents and spur businesses to move into the area.

"Because of the scope of these projects, we are making a significant change in the neighborhood that over time will increase the market value of the houses in the area," said Scot T. Spencer, deputy director of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, a nonprofit organization formed by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the city that is heading the redevelopment effort.

Seven areas of East Baltimore have been targeted for renewal. The bulk of the rowhouses to be rehabilitated, about 250, will be in the Hopkins-Middle East neighborhood. Among the other areas targeted are Patterson Park and the areas around Ashland Avenue and Oliver Street.

Entire blocks will be leveled at scattered sites throughout East Baltimore, including sections of North Port, North Dallas, North Gay and East Eager streets.

The transformation, which is expected to take 15 years at most, pTC is to include redesigned streets, landscaping and money that will be funneled into local businesses.

"We are hoping the first contracts for renovation will begin in March of 1998, and it will be a three-year process from that point" to rehabilitate the first block of houses, said Michael V. Seipp, executive director of the community action coalition. Spencer said the cost of rehabilitating the houses will range from about $75,000 to $125,000.

The houses could be sold for $38,000 to $55,000, Seipp said.

Spencer said that because most of the houses in the plan are vacant, about 88 families will have to be relocated.

The project would be one of the largest rowhouse clearings in Baltimore since the early 1970s, when homes were razed along Franklin Street for Interstate 170, which has never been completed.

In the 1950s, the city cleared several slums and replaced them with huge public housing projects. The four high-rise complexes that were built after World War II have since deteriorated and are beset by crime, drugs and poor conditions. Two have been torn down and replaced with townhouses and rental units for low- and moderate-income families.

Although the city has embarked on large-scale redevelopment and demolition projects, such as Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore, most efforts to revitalize nonpublic housing have been small-scale. The latest effort brings together city agencies, community groups and businesses.

Of the 15 people on the community action coalition board, three are from city agencies, one represents the state, three are from Hopkins, and eight are from community organizations.

Michael Jenkins, a board member representing Hopkins, said the plan is the cornerstone of the improvement of historic East Baltimore. Hopkins officials want more of its employees to live closer to its medical campus.

"This will give Hopkins employees the opportunity to purchase a home, once the project is completed," Jenkins said. "It will help stabilize the community, because you will have employees that are committed to the community, and they will be involved in the community, and that will help in the overall strategy to improve historic East Baltimore."

Jenkins said about 20 percent of Hopkins Hospital's employees live in the surrounding communities. Hopkins officials have set a goal of 50 percent within the next several years.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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