Pinpointing the progress

URBAN CHRONICLE

Report: Data shows improvement outside of the city's `hot' areas.

February 19, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

THAT INCREASE in the median price of a home in Baltimore you keep hearing about is not confined to just a handful of "hot" neighborhoods - housing prices are up at least 10 percent over a recent three-year span in nearly half the city's communities.

And that decrease in major crime that Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Kevin Clark keep talking about is even more widespread - aggravated assaults, robberies, auto thefts and the like are down in four of five neighborhoods.

These are just a couple of the insights gleaned from the data in "Vital Signs II," the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance's just-compiled follow-up to its initial 2002 report. While the initial report established the baseline for the condition of individual city neighborhoods as measured by a wide array of statistics in such key areas as health, housing and safety, the sequel provides a chance for pinpointing where progress is and is not being made.

Overall, the thousands of figures paint a picture of at least incremental improvement across broad areas of the city.

"Things are getting better in the last three years since we've been tracking the data," said Odette T. Ramos, director of the alliance, a nonprofit consortium of organizations formed to present information to improve city neighborhoods. "We want to keep that going."

There's one caveat: The information in "Vital Signs II" is not current. Most of the figures go only through 2002. The alliance had hoped to have the report ready to release in November, a year after its first report, but missed the deadline. It hopes to release its third installment, containing data from 2003, this summer.

Still, the data, presented with notations of its importance and source but no general commentary, frequently contains information from 2000 through 2002, providing a three-year trend line.

For example, it shows that the median price of a house was up at least 10 percent in 23 of 55 of what the alliance calls Community Statistical Areas - clusters of the city's 260 neighborhoods designed to conform closely with census tracts.

Leave aside North Baltimore and the waterfront; everyone knows what's happening to housing prices there. Look instead at Washington Village, where prices are up $15,000 to $60,000, or Poppleton/The Terraces/Hollins Market, where they're up $10,000 to $55,000.

Still, prices in many city neighborhoods - from Allendale/Irvington/South Hilton to Westport/Mount Winans/Lakeland - are essentially flat, an indication of either continued disinterest or incredible opportunity. And prices in eight city neighborhoods, including Clifton/Berea and Midway/Coldstream, showed a decline.

Reported major adult crimes per 1,000 people were down in 47 of 55 neighborhood clusters from 2000-2002. They were nearly halved in booming Canton, but also in middle-class Greater Mondawmin and blighted and impoverished Greenmount East.

At the same time, the number of juvenile arrests was up in 38 of 55 communities, ranging from Fells Point to Southern Park Heights. And, in an indication of the pervasive hold of the drug trade on city youths, the number of kids ages 10-17 arrested on drug-related offenses was up in three out of five communities.

"Vital Signs II" contains several new indicators. One is the number of mortgage foreclosures, which have been relatively constant in the city at a little over 5,000 per year. They are up in 24 neighborhoods, with large increases in Belair-Edison and Howard Park/West Arlington, and down or even in 31, including Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park and Patterson Park.

Another new indicator is the number of abandoned vehicles, given only for the year 2002. It shows that the highest average monthly incidents are in Greater Rosemont, with 72, and in Medfield/Hampden/Woodberry/Remington, with 58.

The report also includes new data on voter registration and voting by neighborhood for the 2000 and 2002 general elections, what it calls a "standard proxy indicator for measuring involvement in civic and community life."

The figures show Mount Washington/Coldspring as the communities with the highest voter registration among eligible residents at about 80 percent and the highest turnout at about 60 percent.

But they also show a dozen neighborhoods where less than half the people 18 and over are even registered to vote, with the lowest being Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point and Downtown/Seton Hill at about 36 percent. In a presidential election year, that's one indicator city and community leaders can focus on improving quickly.

"Vital Signs II" statistics are available on the Web site of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at www.bnia.org.

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