AFTER MONTHS of being ignored, the residents of Middle East Baltimore have begun to be heard amid promises of an economic engine to revitalize East Baltimore.
With the formation of a committee to oversee the relocation of 800 families to accommodate the biotech park that is the cornerstone of a proposed economic development project, there is even a glimmer of hope that we will continue to be heard.
The challenge for both city officials and residents of Middle East will be to ensure that residents are among those who plan every step of the redevelopment process.
City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch has been at the forefront of city officials who have been listening to residents' concerns. She has been working with the Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC), a group that was formed to address residents' concerns about the biotech park.
SMEAC has never opposed the biotech project but is trying to work with officials to ensure that residents are treated fairly.
That means residents must be made whole, which includes a title for a title - that resident homeowners should own their new homes without incurring additional debt. There should be fair compensation so residents can buy a home that is the same size, square foot for square foot, and is situated in a stable community.
There also should be a choice of staying within the Middle East Baltimore neighborhood, relocating outside of the neighborhood or returning to Middle East after redevelopment has been completed.
Further, residents should be represented in all decisions concerning the redevelopment process, including relocation, redesign of the community and assurances that the neighborhood will be kept clean and safe during construction.
These are not extraordinary requests, merely fair compensation. It has taken many group meetings and discussions for officials to begin to understand the impact that this project will have on residents who are relocated. Some have lived in their homes up to 70 years; many inherited them from their families.
Many issues still need to be resolved. Many of the affected residents are elderly, and they have special concerns.
Further, the project will take seven to 10 years to complete, and a continuing dialogue with residents is necessary to ensure the disruption caused by demolition and reconstruction doesn't damage our community.
If the biotech park is going to be an economic development magnet for East Baltimore, then Johns Hopkins, Baltimore City and other large institutions will benefit.
East Baltimore residents must also benefit, and it is essential that we are included in every step of the planning. SMEAC is up to the challenge. Is Baltimore?
Pat Tracey is president of SMEAC.
Pat Tracy is president of the Save Middle East Action Committee. She supervises a team of community outreach staff that performs environmental lead hazard research in Baltimore City for the Kennedy Krieger INstitute.
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