Group launches housing initiative

34 city-owned houses to be rehabilitated for low-income residents

Will work around `anchor' sites

May 06, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A community development group that began by homesteading scores of city-owned houses in the 1980s has embarked on a sweeping strategy designed to reclaim 34 rowhouses and reinvigorate a blighted East Baltimore neighborhood during the next three years.

"Anchors of Hope" is the name being used by the nonprofit People's Homesteading Group for its methodical approach to the Greenmount-Barclay area.

Michael Mazepink, the homesteading group's executive director, said the group decided to concentrate its resources on the region in which its office, at 410 E. North Ave., is located. "If we couldn't renovate our own neighborhood, then who are we?" he said.

Bordered by school board headquarters on East North Avenue, East 25th Street, Homewood Avenue and Green Mount Cemetery, the neighborhood has had more than its share of troubles and loss in recent years: shootings, fires and a flood caused by a water-main break in 1997.

The homesteading group, which receives $160,000 every year in community development block grants from the federal government, will take control of vacant, city-owned structures and rehabilitate them for sale to low-income purchasers.

Although the city housing authority oversees the group's acquisitions and keeps close tabs on its progress, the group also seeks grass-roots participation; the Greenmount Planning Council, composed of nine resident representatives, acts as an advisory group to the "Anchors" project.

Mazepink said the core of the group's strategy is to identify blocks and institutions that are functioning well, such as the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ann's on Greenmount Avenue, and rebuild abandoned or derelict buildings near those community anchors.

Included in a drawing-board vision of the area is a study proposal, prepared by Morgan State University, to open an MTA bus facility and small retail shops on a vacant corner at Greenmount and North avenues.

At a launch Friday attended by the mayor, a congressman, a marching band and neighbors, a Guilford Avenue rowhouse with fresh bricks, wiring, floors, paint and landscaping was praised.

The dwelling gives a home again to a family whose rowhouse of 50 years a few blocks away was demolished two years ago. Theresa Berkley, a school nurse assistant, her two daughters and three granddaughters were the last to leave their Boone Street block.

"I'm so excited," Berkley said. "When I signed the [ownership] papers, I got to crying, I didn't know what else to do. There will be a room for everybody."

In the program's spirit of affordable homeownership for low-income residents, she paid $45,000 for the three-story Guilford Avenue dwelling.

The homesteading group was planning a weekend "workathon" to rehab some of the "Anchors" houses. At a news conference, Mayor Martin O'Malley said he found the project worth emulating throughout Baltimore's rowhouse-rich streetscape.

"Maybe we could make the workathon a citywide effort next year - you know, do something real," he said. "There's no way in the world city government can do it all."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings praised the "brick-by-brick, house-by-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood" method for restoring a city neighborhood recently troubled by a fire started in a vacant rowhouse on East 21st Street that burned six houses last month.

"It's not enough to build buildings, you have to have families and hope," Cummings said.

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