Living in Towson was fine when her children were young, but after they grew up and her husband died, Paula Glowacki found that things became too quiet.
"I was lonely. Everyone worked," she said. "It wasn't like when we had kids. I was older ... and so unhappy."
After plenty of reflection, Glowacki decided to try going home to Highlandtown. In February, she moved into a completely renovated rowhouse near Patterson Park.
Now friends and family surround her. A sister lives next door, another sister lives two doors down, and still another sister lives across the street.
Glowacki and dozens of other new residents credit the move to the Patterson Park Community Development Corp., a 6-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to reviving Patterson Park and Highlandtown.
The corporation helped Glowacki determine if she could afford to move into one of its rowhouses and then designed and renovated it to her specifications.
"They're a godsend," Glowacki said. "It has changed my life. They changed all kinds of little things, plus they upgraded my appliances and the kitchen floor, put in bathroom upgrades, did wall-to-wall carpeting and a hot water heater."
Today, Glowacki and her sisters are hardly ever home. They've become part of the community's renaissance. They help pick up trash, "get after" neighbors who don't clean their portions of the alleys, and attend numerous local activities.
Glowacki is exactly the kind of soldier the corporation wants to enlist in its war against absent, uncaring landlords and their problem tenants. The organization wants to fill the streets with stable homeowners like her.
To achieve its goal, the corporation buys homes around Patterson Park and nearby streets and then resells or rents them. "The people here are desperately trying to save the area," said Ed Rutkowski, the organization's founder and a Highlandtown native.
That's not to say that the 12,000 residents in the area let their homes fall into disrepair. Most don't.
But the corporation has been fighting an uphill battle against local "flippers" - speculators who buy dilapidated rowhouses for quick resale at inflated values, using falsified documents to obtain mortgage loans for the buyers.
Flipping leaves victims with little money to spend on their homes beyond making the mortgage payment. A sudden, expensive repair can prove disastrous for the new owner, who is often forced to abandon the home.
"Let's say it's a single mom with kids, and money is dear. Now her boiler breaks and it's $4,000 to replace it. They walk away from the home and the house is vacant. That means more crime and vandalism," said Tara Tyler, the development corporation's sales manager.
The flipping cycle creates about 300 vacant houses in the area at any one time, estimates Bill Henry, assistant corporation director.
In six years, the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. has given a helping hand to 317 properties. It has sold 74 of its custom-rehabilitated homes and has 20 more of those homes under contract. Fifteen rowhouses were sold "as is" to other developers or individuals who did their own renovations. The corporation also has 141 rental rowhouses.
The group also has three office buildings and 64 houses designated as inventory.
"We're doing much more than we expected," Rutkowski said of the corporation, which is supported by foundations and government funds.
The group's target area is bounded by Patterson Park Avenue on the west, Fayette Street and Pulaski Highway on the north, Haven Street on the east and Eastern Avenue on the south.
The zone takes in five neighborhoods: Patterson Place, Baltimore Linwood, Baltimore Highlands, South Ellwood and Highlandtown. It contains 12,000 people and 5,500 houses.
Usually, the corporation buys homes at foreclosure auctions. Right now, its primary focus is on Baltimore Street along the park, and a few side streets close to the park.
Fetching highest prices
The rehabbed homes are now fetching their highest prices. In 1997, the average sales price of a park-side home in need of renovation was about $57,800, with an average of 201 days on the market.
Last year, similar homes spent only 56 days on the market, said officials at the local Long & Foster Realtors office. Many rehabs sold for $130,000 and higher - prices unheard of in past years.
Recent park improvements made by the city have been a blessing for these homes, corporation officials say. These include the planting of trees, better lighting and the renovation of the park's 1891 "Pagoda," also known as the Patterson Park Observatory.
(The Pagoda was designed by Charles Latrobe, grandson of Benjamin H. Latrobe, architect of Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption.)
The park acts as the "natural draw," as does the waterfront in Canton. Among the park's attractions are its pool and its tennis courts.