Latest phase of area revival

334 homes to be built or renovated in city's Sandtown-Winchester

March 14, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Nonprofit groups plan to build or renovate more than 330 homes for low-income residents in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood within three years, the next wave of an urban renewal program that some call a national model.

The project will increase the number of homes constructed to nearly 900 since the effort began in the 1990s.

"It's the next big effort for Sandtown," said Chickie Grayson, president of Enterprise Homes Inc., a subsidiary of the Enterprise Foundation, which is a partner with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) to construct these houses.

Enterprise will build 200 houses modeled after its much-publicized Nehemiah homes built in the 1990s. About half of the $25 million project will be funded by grants or loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; the rest will be from private foundations and donations.

At the same time, another group, Habitat for Humanity, will renovate 134 homes in the area at a cost of about $6.7 million. Habitat's work will be funded in large part by private contributions.

Both groups sell the homes they build at moderate prices and help residents finance them. The goal is to cure many urban ills by promoting homeownership and community investment.

"Between these two groups, we're compelled to make Sandtown-Winchester a better, safer place for everyone to live in," Grayson said.

The area has been the target of a comprehensive urban renewal program for at least 12 years. State, federal and city governments, as well as private foundations, have spent millions of dollars on job programs, education, health care, housing and crime prevention projects - practically turning Sandtown into a study of urban policy.

Since the 1990s, about 500 homes have been built or renovated in the 72-block area bounded by North Avenue on the north, Pennsylvania and Fremont avenues on the east, Lafayette Avenue on the south and Monroe Street on the west.

While much of the project has become a national model for revitalization, the area has been beset by crime and drugs.

But Grayson and Allan Tibbels, co-executive director of the Sandtown Habitat for Humanity, say crime has decreased, homeownership is on the rise and property values have doubled.

This next phase, Tibbels said, will help eradicate vacant properties that breed trouble. He estimates that the area has about 800 vacant properties.

"We want to have zero vacants," Tibbels said. "Even one vacant house is a problem because it begins to deteriorate, it can be a place for dumping, it can be a place for rodents. When you have hundreds, it's really bad."

The group is focusing on the 15 square blocks bounded by Presbury Street to the north, Laurens Street to the south, Carey Street to the east and Monroe Street to the west. His group plans to renovate older homes and build new ones.

Yesterday, the city's Board of Estimates approved an agreement to sell properties over the next year to Tibbel's organization for a total of $134.

The board also approved the sale of 414 vacant lots and properties to the Enterprise group for $414.

Grayson said Enterprise's 200-home project will be mainly new construction. She said the program aims to open up the neighborhood by building houses with yards or porches and creating more spaces outside.

"When you can make a difference in a community like in Sandtown, you want to keep making it better," Grayson said. "Once you get started and it's in your heart, you want to make it a place where people want to call home."

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