Apartments draw seniors to Canton

Low-income housing available in popular area

April 21, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

The view from Lila Jessa's one-bedroom flat is 100 percent Canton: vignettes of the working waterfront mixed with the hurly-burly traffic along Boston Street.

Her rent, however, is only about 30 percent Canton. In a city neighborhood where the tiniest rowhouses can command rents that top $800 a month, Jessa pays $275 a month for a 600-square-foot apartment.

Jessa, 66, lives in the area's newest senior housing building, with 56 affordable one- and two-bedroom units for residents whose incomes range between a third and one-half of the area's median income level.

"My family didn't think that I was ready for a senior home," said Jessa, a recently retired property manager who relocated from a house a few blocks north. "But I enjoy it very much. It's just the right size for me and it's convenient because I do drive and it's close to everything."

Convenient neighborhood living was a primary goal of the three local groups that partnered to build the $5.3 million property at 1351 S. Clinton St.

"When the services are convenient in an area, it cuts capital and operating costs [for the residents] enormously. You can leverage the entire city of Baltimore," said Charles B. Duff Jr., president of Jubilee Baltimore, a nonprofit development firm.

The Lord Baltimore chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association turned to Jubilee last year and, with the help of Enterprise Homes, brought low-income housing to the hottest real estate in town.

Financing was a mix of city and state funding, along with investments from the Enterprise Social Investment Corp. and a grant from Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos. The firm of Hord Coplan Macht designed the L-shaped brick building with balcony views of Fort McHenry, Greek architectural details and a community lounge.

The building stands on a lot that sat vacant for 30 years, the last undeveloped remnant of properties cleared in the 1960s to make way for a doomed eastward extension of the Jones Falls Expressway.

Neighbors worried what would become of the spot. Worry turned to relief when the three-story building rose - an attainable destination for older residents in Canton, Highlandtown and Greektown.

"Canton is a place where people will let you know what they think," said Duff. "And they like it."

Jessa's family wasn't immediately supportive of her decision to relocate.

"They equated this with being a senior-assisted property," she said.

But in the range of housing options available to seniors, AHEPA is the least intrusive. It doesn't offer the meal services of an assisted-living facility or the medical care of a nursing home.

It does have an elevator, though, making it an attractive alternative for mobile seniors such as Jessa, who have grown weary of stairs.

"Fifteen years ago in Southeast Baltimore, there were no buildings with elevators, except maybe the hospitals," Duff added.

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