Barclay residents hopeful for a community turnaround


It could pay off to buy, fix up a run-down house

May 09, 2004|By Shruti Mathur | Shruti Mathur,SUN STAFF

Sandra Coles remembers being greeted by a vibrant working-class family community when she moved to the Barclay neighborhood 20 years ago.

Yet, as the Baltimore neighborhood's name and boundaries have slowly faded into the surrounding areas of Waverly, Charles Village and East Midway, so have its community spirit and activism. The change has left several local residents feeling increasingly frustrated, although efforts to improve the neighborhood are accelerating.

It is not uncommon to see groups of teen-age mothers walking along Barclay's streets during the day and gangs of young men huddled on dark street corners at night carrying out drug deals. Residents said they have had some success with police in decreasing crime recently, but many in the community still worry.

FOR THE RECORD - In the Sunday real estate section of May 9, incorrect information was included in an article about Barclay. People's Homesteading Group is renovating houses in the neighborhood, not Habitat for Humanity or the city Housing Authority. Incorrect titles were given for East Baltimore Midway Community Development Corp. and the Greater Homewood Community Corp. A listing of the schools in the area was incomplete. Omitted were: Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School, Margaret Brent Elementary School and the Robert Poole Middle and High schools. A caption misidentified a photo of Barclay Street. The Sun regrets the error.

"There is a scared mentality among the residents," Coles said.

Taking center stage recently in Barclay has been another concern, the number of vacant houses. Mary McPhail, president of the Barclay Leadership Council, estimates that of the approximately 500 homes in the Barclay area, about 125 are vacant.

The city Housing Authority and nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity have begun to help renovate these broken-down homes, and further initiatives are in the works, said Jermaine Johnson, the city's neighborhood liaison for Central and Eastern Baltimore.

Cordell Wilson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, offers another possible economic solution to the housing problem. Recently, out-of-state investors have shown an interest in some of Baltimore's abandoned homes. Some are rehabilitating the properties and reselling them.

Few homes have sold during the past year in Barclay, where prices average about $59,000.

"People who live here and have been watching this neighborhood for the past 15 years may not see any long-term potential in investing in it," Wilson said. "However, those who have invested in vacant homes in areas like Brooklyn have seen that such a place can exhibit real growth."

For neighbors who have watched Barclay struggle recently, there is hope that things can change. Coles acknowledges that there was a time when she contemplated packing up and heading back to her former home on the Eastern Shore.

"I just didn't see my role in the community, I had no direction, no resources, and things just kept getting worse," she said.

But Coles has been feeling better about the community's prospects in recent years.

Through the People's Homesteading Group, an organization committed to providing inner-city families with the resources to become homeowners, Coles has found a venue for coordinating community outreach projects while empowering her neighbors.

The group also coordinates area gardening activities with the Barclay Leadership Council, an offspring of the Eastern Midway Neighborhood Association.

Other groups working to revitalize Barclay include the Greater Homewood Improvement Association and the Barclay-Midway-Old Goucher Coalition, which was formed in July, which are addressing a variety of issues.

One of the ways the community is fighting the drug and teen-age pregnancy problems is by holding an annual fair that brings together local hospitals and public health institutions to distribute literature about risks and consequences to the neighborhood's young people.

Another more recent concern is the placement of a probation and parole center next to Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School. That has pushed more residents to get involved in the community, neighbors said.

The Barclay-Midway-Old Goucher Coalition holds neighborhood forums every four months that have attracted as many as 100 residents.

Johnson, who regularly attends these gatherings, predicted the coalition would become the driving force in the community.

"The area has been asleep for a while, but with the coalition, opinions are being voiced, beautification and sanitation projects are being implemented, and I feel that with a close partnership with the city, the negative images are going to change," he said.

Barclay, which was built at the turn of the 20th century a few blocks from the Johns Hopkins University campus, also gets help from the university community.

Many programs have been initiated by the Center for Social Concern, a volunteer services organization at Hopkins. Many student clubs and associations tackle tasks in Barclay, including conducting soccer camps for children, starting high school graduate and computer literacy programs, and donating books to area students.

Matthew P. D'Agostino, assistant director of the Hopkins group, said he thinks the community is headed in the right direction.

"Our relationship with Barclay is becoming increasingly more complex and positive," D'Agostino said. "Change is slow, but it is happening."

That, perhaps, is a sentiment echoed by many of Barclay's residents.

As Barclay's community organizations become increasingly structured and geared for action, residents are starting to feel a sense of hope for significant change.

"I saw the community go down, down, down, and now I'm willing to do my part to see it rise again," McPhail said.


ZIP code: 21218

Driving distance to downtown: 10-15 minutes

Public schools: Barclay Elementary and Middle School, Lake Clifton High, Carver Vocational-Technical High

Homes on the market: One

Average list price: $56,950 *

Average sales price: $58,950 *

Days on market: 50 *

Sales prices as percentage of the list price: 103.5% *

* Based on two properties sold during the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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