Demolition begins at Freedom Village

Mixed-income housing planned to fight blight in Northeast Baltimore

October 07, 2004|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Hoping to revitalize a blighted portion of Northeast Baltimore, the city began demolishing a long-vacant, low-income apartment complex yesterday to clear the way for a new, economically diverse housing community.

The 307-unit Freedom Village apartments, built south of the current Belair-Edison neighborhood in 1948 for low-income residents, is being torn down.

Its 15-acre site - along with 43 adjacent acres where the Claremont Homes public housing development stands - will be used for 500 low-income and market-rate rental units, and homes for sale.

The parcels are near Erdman Road and Sinclair Lane.

Freedom Village is vacant, but about 60 people live in the 290-unit Claremont Homes, which won't be torn down until the residences are built on the Freedom Village site. Claremont residents will be given the first opportunity to move into the new low-income housing.

Anna Warren, 68, who has lived in Claremont Homes since 1959 and raised seven children there, welcomed the city's plans.

"We waited three years and finally we got something torn down," Warren said. When she moved in, she said, Claremont was "like a country club" with ball fields and views of woods.

But lately things have deteriorated, she said, with bad pipes, dry rot and a depressing general decay. Warren longed to see her area revived, and she thinks it's finally happening.

"This is going to be beautiful," she said. "People are going to fight just to get in here."

Yesterday's demolition work was the start of the first phase of the Freedom Village/Claremont Homes project. The property should be cleared by the end of the year, and in the meantime the city is seeking proposals from developers.

As part of the project, the nearby Claremont Extension, a nine-story, low-income apartment building, will be renovated or razed.

The plan is part of the city's efforts to reinvigorate large, neglected swaths of Baltimore by tearing down blocks of decrepit buildings and encouraging developers to replaced them with new housing.

The city hopes to demolish a 100-acre, low-income housing complex in Southwest Baltimore, Uplands Apartments, to make way for 1,100 new apartments and homes.

Those plans are subject to legal challenges by former tenants who fear they won't be able to afford the new housing.

Still, city housing officials are optimistic that depressed areas of the city can be revived.

"We have a very real opportunity here to redirect investment back into the city," Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said yesterday.

"Many, many people are priced out of the suburban counties of Maryland, and the city of Baltimore is providing tremendous alternatives," he said.

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