Figuring Baltimore's communities

Urban Chronicle

Statistics: The latest `Vital Signs' compendium tallies everything from foreclosure numbers to student attendance rates in each of the city's neighborhoods.

October 14, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

FROM THE start of the decade to the end of last year, the average time it took for a house on the market in Baltimore to be sold was nearly halved, to 28 days.

In the Charles Village/Barclay area of North Baltimore, where housing prices rose by nearly a third, the drop was even more drastic, from 49 days to 10. In the Howard Park/West Arlington section of Northwest, however, where housing prices rose hardly at all, it took about the same amount of time -- seven weeks -- for a house to sell last year as it did in 2000.

Similarly, reported instances of major crime citywide dropped by a quarter over the last four years. But they stayed roughly the same in Cherry Hill in South Baltimore while falling by more than a third in Washington Village in Southwest.

These are just a few of the revealing facts contained in "Vital Signs III," the third and latest compendium of statistics from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.

Some of the information has begun appearing Mondays on the op-ed page of The Sun, mapped according to city ZIP codes.

The complete report, scheduled to be available next week on the organization's Web site at www.bnia.org, breaks most of the information into 55 of what the alliance calls community statistical areas -- clusters of the city's 260 neighborhoods designed to comport closely with census tracts.

The annual Vital Signs reports have become one of the best tools for looking at neighborhood trends in the years between the decennial census counts. In some ways, they are better than the census because they include information on subjects such as crime that the census doesn't measure. With each succeeding report, trends become clearer.

The latest report confirms the impression that the city overall is making strides, but that the movement is uneven.

"In lots of different ways, we're making progress," said Odette Ramos, executive director of the alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing policymakers, planners and community leaders with accurate and detailed information about communities. "There's a lot to still work on."

An example of the former is a 20 percent decline in the number of mortgage foreclosures in the city last year from the four-year peak of about 5,500 in 2001. Some of the most substantial declines were in Patterson Park in Southeast, the Park Heights area in Northwest and a group of neighborhoods in Southwest, including Boyd-Booth and Mill Hill, though each had well over 100 foreclosures. Belair-Edison in Northeast had the highest number of foreclosures -- 248 -- of any neighborhood, but the figure was down from 283 in 2001.

Although the report offers information without attempting an explanation for any changes, Ramos speculated that the reason for the decline in foreclosures is that "people might be more educated about buying houses. ... Efforts like helping to control flipping are having an impact."

On the other hand, the city has made little progress in reducing the number of evictions: They have held steady for the past two years -- the only ones for which data are provided -- at about 12 per 1,000 people. In some neighborhoods -- such Forest Park/Walbrook on the west side and Westport/Mount Winans/Lakeland in Southwest -- they increased significantly.

Ramos cautions that some numbers might be misleading. Increases in reported instances of dirty streets and alleys, for example, probably indicate greater use of the city's 311 complaint system rather than a rise in filth. Still, it's interesting to look at where most of the complaints are coming from: Patterson Park, followed by Madison-Eastend.

A new wrinkle to this edition's indicators is student attendance and achievement records listed not, as in the past, by school, but by the neighborhood in which the student lives.

One telling number: More than 20 percent of elementary schoolchildren missed 20 days or more of school in nine of the 55 areas, including Brooklyn/Curtis Bay and Highlandtown. One unanswered question: Is this because of health reasons, possibly due to the environment, family problems or parental neglect?

Asked for a single indicator that best exemplified the direction of the city, Ramos mentioned the decline in the median number of days a house is on the market before being sold. "That indicates that there's more demand," she said.

And that demand is widespread. In 39 of 55 areas, the time it took for a house to be sold was down by two weeks or more between 2000 and last year.

The shortest median turnaround time for a house to be sold last year was a week, in Mount Washington/Coldspring in Northwest. The longest was nearly three months in a group of far Southeastern neighborhoods that include Greektown and Graceland Park.

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