City to try again on Barclay rowhouse renewal

56 units failing after '81 revival part of larger attack on blight

April 05, 2005|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

In the spring of 1981, Baltimore officials sealed a deal with a local developer that was part of a new federal program to provide housing for the poor and revive blighted neighborhoods.

The agreement included the sale of 56 vacant rowhouses in Barclay in North Baltimore and a low-cost city loan to augment a multimillion-dollar federally backed mortgage.

"It's a very worthwhile project in an area that sadly needs it, and it will ... provide quality living conditions for the people who will occupy these premises and will generally help to motivate an improvement of the entire area, which has been a slum for a very long time," then-real estate officer Jerome Goldfein told the Board of Estimates.

Twenty-four years and three mayoral administrations later, Baltimore officials have crafted a new deal involving the rowhouses, which are mostly occupied but in need of nearly $2 million in repairs.

This one calls for the city to buy back the properties for $257,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is foreclosing on them after the developer's default on the mortgage.

The city wants to resell the properties, located within a four-square-block area next to school headquarters on North Avenue, along with more than 100 other vacant city-controlled lots and buildings. It is yet another attempt to revitalize the area, which by all accounts has deteriorated even further in the last quarter of a century.

Despite the decayed condition of the neighborhood, officials believe Barclay could be ripe for redevelopment, given its location between the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus and the solid Charles Village community to the north and the fledgling Station North arts district to the south.

"It's an opportunity in a concerted way to pump a lot of juice into this neighborhood," said Christopher Shea, the city's associate deputy director of housing.

A formal announcement of the purchase of the properties known as Barclay Townhouses was scheduled for today.

The city's agreement to purchase the properties comes as the Planning Department prepares to unveil this week a neighborhood blueprint that has been six months in the making and calls for more green space where trash-strewn lots now exist and increased lighting on darkened, drug-infested corners.

The renewed city involvement in the area is welcomed by residents and activists in Barclay, who complain about the state-run parole and probation office on Guilford Avenue and the crime-ridden section of the Greenmount Avenue corridor that flank the community.

`Very good news'

"This is very good news. This is the opportunity to not do piecemeal development again in this neighborhood," said Michael Mazepink, executive director of People's Homesteading, a nonprofit housing group that has worked in the neighborhood for two decades.

Connie Ross, longtime resident and a leader of the Barclay/Midway/Old Goucher coalition, said she is hopeful "something positive" comes out of the city's purchase. But she said the key will be whether the city can attract developers and fund improvements "so it looks like a neighborhood."

"Getting control and actually doing something positive after you get control is two different things," she said. "It seems as if this area has not gotten the attention it deserves."

More attention was what city leaders had in mind when they included Barclay in one of a handful of communities chosen as Neighborhood Strategy Areas in the early 1980s.

As part of an effort to revitalize the area and provide better housing for low-income people, the city sold 56 rowhouses scattered on several streets for a little more than $500 each to Barclay Townhouse Associates, a partnership headed by Mendel Friedman, a developer involved in many city projects. The city also provided a $455,000 loan at 1 percent interest that was in addition to a $4.2 million federally backed mortgage.

When the renovations were complete, the Barclay Townhouse project had 91 units and a long-term contract with the federal government to subsidize the rents, keeping them available to the poor.

Laticia Bradford, who grew up in Barclay and has lived in the rowhouses for a dozen years, remembers when the project was completed. "Everybody wanted in. It had central air conditioning, central heating, wall-to-wall carpeting."

A school crossing guard with a teenage daughter who lives next door to her sister, Darlene Handy, on an "alley street" surrounded by vacant lots, Bradford, 32, said maintenance was fine when she moved in but began deteriorating about five years ago.

Bradford and Handy, a housekeeper with two sons, also have problems with the surrounding area, particularly the vacant lots next door to their homes that are littered with trash and weeds.

"We hate when the summer comes," said Bradford. "We get these blue bugs that bite us. And it gives the drug addicts and the drug dealers a place to hide."

1 in 3 properties vacant

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