Funderburk and Cole rent a two-story, two-bedroom rowhouse in the 1600 block of N. Bradford St. It is no bigger than many apartments but is warm and tidy with a kitchen floor they re-tiled themselves. Hanging in their tiny living room above a vinyl sofa is a framed homily that belonged to Funderburk's late father. "Lord," it says, "help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me that you and I together can't handle."
When they were seeking new housing, this rowhouse looked better on the inside than other places they had seen. What keeps them here is economics. Funderburk brings in roughly $1,100 a month as a customer service representative for a furniture company. Add the $185 a month in temporary medical assistance that Cole receives after having surgery two years ago, and the family's monthly income is still below the poverty level.
Their rent runs $400 a month, and winter utility bills add another $300, driven up in part by the cold seeping in from the empty houses flanking theirs. "Every time they try and raise the rent," she said, "I remind them that I live between two vacants."
To live in a better neighborhood would cost them more, which wouldn't leave enough for items such as the two bicycles -- one pink, the other black and orange -- that were their kids' Christmas presents. It's hard putting any money away, but what they manage to save they intend to use to pay off debts and, with luck, to buy a car.
"I got to bear it out and make sense of it," Cole, 43, said. "If I moved somewhere else, I couldn't afford for my kids."
Both struggle, psychologically and practically, with what goes on around them.
Cole gets tired of clearing the trash that accumulates in the crevices of the broken steps of a house across the street. Residents say drug dealers cracked the steps to create a hiding place for drugs.
"We're just forgotten about," he said. "Look at the neighborhood. Everybody's moving out. Every time somebody's moving out, they're boarding it up."
Funderburk is worried enough about the neighborhood that her two teenaged children from a previous relationship live with her mother in Baltimore County. "I sacrifice seeing them every day," she said.
On occasion, she is able to overlook the problems, as when she watches Taescha and Trevijon happily running down the sidewalk. "Sometimes, when I look at my kids and see them playing and having fun, I feel like I'm not hurting them by living here," she said.
A moment later, though, her frustration spills over: "The neighborhood is dirty, and it sucks. I can show you five bars. That's our entertainment."
Scanning her street from the front of her house, she adds: "I can't change the fact that 10,000 people want to buy crack on Lanvale and Bradford every week. I just want to see something positive happen to the neighborhood. I want to see some life."
The shooting death of the teenager, who lived in Parkville but hung out on North Bradford Street, hit her particularly hard.
"He was an intelligent young man. He was here dealing. He got caught up in that world," she said.
She can't help worrying that his life could be a template for her children's. "You look at your children, and your heart hurts," she said. "Are those people going to recruit them? Are they going to be attracted to what goes on? That's my biggest fear."
When landlords in a neighborhood charge as little as $300 a month to rent a rowhouse, it isn't necessarily a sign of a bargain. It suggests an area in trouble, which is exactly the case around the brewery.
Throughout the area are rowhouses in near-squalid condition that rent for under $300 a month, like one on the 1700 block of N. Bradford St. with a broken stove in the kitchen, holes in the living room walls and a barely functional faucet in the second-floor bathroom. While the city issues violations for such properties, there are also economic realities that militate against improving housing in distressed areas.
Tenants can't afford to pay more, so landlords can't charge more and are less willing to invest in renovations. Housing deteriorates, properties are abandoned and real estate prices plunge. As this cycle accelerated in the 1990s, landlords joined many residents in flight from the brewery area.
Complicating the matter is a 1994 law that set conditions and deadlines for landlords to rid rental units of dangerous levels of lead. While the law provides much-needed protection for children, it imposes significant costs on landlords, which some claim encourage abandonment. It can cost up to $10,000 to bring a rowhouse into compliance with state and city lead reduction laws, officials say.
"Everyone's on the edge -- landlords are on the edge, and tenants are on the edge," said Sandra J. Newman, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. "The problem is that we have continued, persistent poverty."