Saving neighborhood block by block Park Heights South activists win funds for revival program

October 26, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

One day recently, Henri Thompson knocked on Adelle Turner's door, following up on her complaint about a drug house. Turner pulled on her coat and took Thompson on a tour of her 3200 block of Woodland Ave. and a nearby block, pointing out problem properties sagging from neglect that she says she and her neighbors have complained to the city about for years.

"Well, things have changed. It's a new day," Thompson said.

Community organizer Thompson's visit is one part of a new comprehensive community effort to transform long-beleaguered southern Park Heights -- a community beset by crime, joblessness, poverty and hopelessness.

But there's a new twist to southern Park Heights' rehabilitation: More than half the money is coming from private, not government, sources.

Local foundations -- Hoffberger, Goldseker and Straus -- will contribute $178,000 annually for three years to provide such services as a lawyer and paralegal to take on absentee landlords and business owners who abet drug dealing and experts to mobilize residents to improve themselves and the condition of their homes and neighborhoods and to become more involved with the lives of their children.

On Tuesday, Hoffberger family members will be honored at a Community Law Center fund-raiser for their role in the revitalization of southern Park Heights. The program at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place, will begin with a reception at 5: 30 p.m., followed by a speech by Neal R. Peirce, a syndicated columnist on urban affairs.

The foundation money complements the soon-to-begin Hot Spots program that provides $100,000 in state and federal money annually over three years by providing police, prosecutors and probation agents to work with government and neighborhoods in fighting crime in southern Park Heights.

"The vision we have is to go block by block, rebuilding this community over the next 20 years," said Sharon Duncan-Jones, executive director of the Park Reist Corridor Coalition Inc.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who said he has worked with southern Park Heights neighborhood activists in creating their plan, endorses that approach.

"We've learned some lessons about community transformation over the past couple years -- a lot of it comes from our successes and failures in Sandtown," said Henson, referring to the heralded community revitalization effort in West Baltimore.

"It is clear to us that rehabbing the bricks and mortar just won't do it alone. You need to look at changing people's lives."

About 17,000 people live in southern Park Heights, which is bounded by Park Circle to the south, Manchester Avenue to the northwest, Wabash Avenue to the west and Park Heights Avenue to the east.

The Northwest Baltimore community is marred by many dilapidated, vacant houses, trash-strewn lawns and alleys and crowds of unemployed young people standing on street corners.

Morale among area leaders dipped three years ago when southern Park Heights was left out of the city's application for federal Empowerment Zone money. Instead, the city selected Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore; Pigtown and Poppleton in Southwest; the neighborhoods around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore; and Fairfield in southern Baltimore.

Then, Beverly Thomas, the longtime force behind the Park Reist Corridor Coalition Inc., a southern Park Heights community organization, began meeting with residents to formulate a plan to address the area's problems.

One of the key people she met with was Jean Yahudah, a longtime resident of southern Park Heights who was working as a neighborhood organizer in Boyd-Booth in Southwest Baltimore, where a federally funded comprehensive neighborhood initiative had caused crime to plummet.

Yahudah's experience in Boyd-Booth brought ideas to Thomas' group.

The group joined Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the Neighborhood Design Center, the Community Law Center and several community groups to apply to the Hoffberger Foundation for funds.

Hoffberger officials promised $100,000 and solicited other funds from the Straus and Morris Goldseker foundations, which gave $50,000 and $28,000, respectively.

Douglas Hoffberger, treasurer of the Hoffberger Foundation, said he was impressed that so many groups had joined in the effort.

"We had the feeling that we'd be doing something that's pretty cutting edge here," said Hoffberger.

"We're working in a pretty small area, and we should be able to tell pretty quickly if what we're doing is working and if it's worth duplicating and trying again in another neighborhood."

"There are a lot of stable neighborhoods there -- we need to build on that," said Anne Blumenberg, executive director of the Community Law Center.

For years, southern Park Heights has been a place where government programs worked for a while, but did not make a major difference over the long haul, community leaders say. For example, the city has helped Parks Sausage Co. financially, hoping it would provide jobs for area residents, but because of industry problems, the company has had to lay off workers.

"I think this is our last time. If it don't work this time, it's not going to ever work," said Yahudah, president of Woodland Nguzo Saba neighborhood association.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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