Tapping into a new affordable-housing fund for the first time, city officials approved a plan yesterday to spend $10.7 million to tear down more than 400 housing units in some of Baltimore's most neglected neighborhoods.
From Poppleton to Cherry Hill, the demolitions are expected to begin this fall and will be paid for from an affordable-housing fund created last year as part of negotiations over a city-funded convention hotel. City officials hope the demolitions will spark private development of affordable housing.
Though many of the projects are under way, supporters said the city's financial commitment will jump start the effort by paying for the purchase and demolition of residential properties - most of which are vacant - that can then be combined into larger parcels that are easier to develop.
"There's no way a private developer is going to jump into a patchwork and say, `OK, I'll do every other house in the block,'" said Christopher Shea, deputy commissioner for development for the city's housing department. "We have the ability to go in and completely acquire large parcels of land."
The affordable-housing program was created last year as the City Council debated a plan to build a $305 million hotel. Several council members said they could not support a major downtown development unless money was set aside for neighborhoods.
Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a community organization, lobbied for the creation of the fund as a compromise.
"It takes us beyond the Inner Harbor into very crucial neighborhoods that we need to revitalize and change," said Council President Sheila Dixon, who voted to support the spending yesterday. "This is going to be very beneficial to [show] that the focus is not just on downtown. We care about our neighborhoods."
Last year, the city directed $10 million in budget surplus to the fund, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said he will use a mix of federal grants and loans to continue the program. Money received by the city through a revenue-sharing arrangement it has with the Hyatt Regency Baltimore has also been reserved for the fund, Shea said.
The city's Board of Estimates approved using that money for five projects:
More than 100 units will be demolished at Cherry Hill Homes, part of a public housing development built in 1955 that once contained 637 units. The work will cost $1.3 million.
The city will spend $1.2 million for acquisition, relocation and demolition in the southwestern portion of the Oliver neighborhood, including in the 1500 and 1600 blocks of E. Preston St. and the 1600 block of Ellsworth St., officials said.
Acquisition and demolition in the Poppleton neighborhood will cost $2.3 million and will clear the way for a proposed housing and retail development. The money will also pay for the relocation of least 19 families whose homes are to be demolished.
Demolition of the 292-unit Claremont Homes will draw about $2.7 million from the fund. Construction of a housing project is expected to start next month on the nearby Freedom Village site. City officials expect that development to be expanded to the Claremont site.
About $3.2 million will be spent on demolition of the Uplands Development, a vacant former public housing site off Old Frederick Road.
Jennifer Leonard, director of the National Vacant Properties Campaign in Washington, said cities often lure developers by providing large ready-for-construction parcels. But the practice of assembling the property, which often relies on eminent domain, must be used judiciously, she said.
"Cities really are trying to assemble parcels of land," she said. "But it doesn't always make sense to take down an entire block, depending on what's going on in the neighborhood already."
Sonia and Curtis Eaddy, who own a three-story home on North Carrollton Avenue in Poppleton, said they would prefer that the city expand the neighborhood's strengths rather than tear it down. Their home, which is to be demolished, is near three city-owned vacant lots but is in good shape.
"This was a beautiful block. It was always a beautiful block," said Sonia Eaddy, who has formed a neighborhood group to try to fight the proposed development. "We were excited that we were going to get some help here, but it turns out that this wasn't the right kind of help. ... Now, we're going to get wiped out."