Bon Secours apartments boost community health

Stability: Hospital helps redevelop its neighborhood with affordable housing.

April 16, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

The apartment is tiny compared with the house she owned a few blocks away. The bathroom and kitchen are smaller, and there is virtually no dining room, though the living room is considered big enough for a table off to one end.

"This is all I need, I'm satisfied," said smiling 87-year-old Bettie Ford, of her new West Baltimore apartment. "It's perfect."

Ford is one of the first tenants of the new Bon Secours Smallwood Summit apartment building for low-income senior citizens. The building, at Baltimore and Smallwood streets, is a block from Bon Secours Hospital.

The four-story brick building is a bonus for a city that is increasingly struggling to make affordable housing available for a growing, and possibly poorer, elderly population. It stands out in an area where decades of decline have eroded once-charming rowhouse-lined streets into parcels of decrepit and vacant shells.

Smallwood is the latest effort by the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation to revitalize the stark area around the hospital. Since 1988, the foundation has led a group of neighborhood and city organizations that has built three other apartment complexes in West Baltimore for the elderly: Hollins Terrace on Hollins Street, Benet House on Millington Avenue and Liberty Village Senior Living on Towanda Avenue.

The foundation also has fully or partially renovated 90 rowhouses along four blocks of West Baltimore Street near the hospital.

In January, the first tenants moved into Smallwood. The L-shaped building has 89 apartments - 82 of them are one-bedroom units with about 650 square feet, like Ford's, and the rest are nearly 800-square-foot, two-bedroom homes.

Twenty-eight of the apartments are occupied, 17 others have renters waiting to move in, and there are more than 100 applications on file for the remaining 44 units, said site manager Mary Robbins.

To qualify, residents have to be at least 62 years old and earn less than $21,000 a year. The apartments are $262 to $395 a month for the one-bedroom units and $430 for the two-bedroom units.

The $7.6 million building is clean, with landscaped grounds, a security door, a parking lot and a laundry room on each floor. The apartments are carpeted, with full-size appliances and air conditioning units. The hallways are bright and resemble the corridors of a neatly maintained hotel.

"People come here, and they want to move right in," Robbins said. "It's new, it's quiet and it smells great.

"That front door is like a fortress. You're not getting in until you show me some I.D.," said Robbins, stressing safety for a building located squarely in a high-crime area.

The project is being driven by the foundation, which pulled together financing by securing federal low-income-housing tax credits and state and city funds. The apartment building is on the site of the former Mrs. Ihrie's potato chip factory.

Community redevelopment - along with providing health care to the sick - is one of the hospital's missions, said foundation Executive Director George Kelb. Kelb said Bon Secours considers unsuitable housing a symptom of an ill community.

"This is a more holistic approach to community health," Kelb said. "If you look at the neighborhood, it has had significant disinvestment over the years. The seniors themselves are anchors, they are a stabilizing force. And if they have to leave the area to find somewhere else to live, then you lose something even more."

Ford, the new tenant, said she needed to move from her home but didn't want to leave the area because it is close to her church, Jones Tabernacle Baptist Church, on the 2100 block of W. Baltimore St.

"I'm enjoying myself so much here," said Ford, who is widowed and has a grown daughter.

Ford moved into Smallwood on March 10. "I don't have a whole lot of noise" from young people on the street, she said. "It's peaceful and I get along with my neighbors."

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