Laying the groundwork

September 20, 2006

For too long, blighted neighborhoods and dilapidated housing stock have marred too much of Baltimore's landscape. So who could argue against the City Council's recent decision to spend $10.7 million to tear down hundreds of rowhouses in some of the most neglected neighborhoods to make room for mixed-income development?

The concern now is not what's coming down, but what will go up - and how. City officials say the razed properties will be easier to develop when combined into larger parcels, and as result, will attract developers. The key to success will be ensuring that rebuilding occurs in a timely fashion and that developers who support the city's larger goals are charged with making it happen.

Until recently, many of the city's neighborhood revitalization efforts have been piecemeal and have not attracted developers in the way that large swaths of cleared land can. At the same time, the new housing that has been built has mostly catered to a high-end market. This has justifiably raised questions about how Baltimore can best attract well-off residents willing and able to pay for upscale housing while at the same time making affordable housing available for people of varied financial means.

Supporters of the demolition funding say it is a down payment on what will one day become neighborhoods where teachers, police officers, social workers and other moderate-income people can afford to live. For a family with an annual income of $57,000, this would mean a house costing $176,000. For a family earning $21,000 per year, an affordable price would be $66,000. A funding commitment by the city will be needed, however, to sustain these plans over the long term. And city residents displaced as a result of the demolition should be given priority in returning to the redeveloped neighborhoods.

The affordable housing that in 1995 started replacing high-rise housing projects along Martin Luther King Boulevard has helped spur further development on the city's west side - which is a hoped-for dividend in reclaiming these other sites as well.

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