Millions dedicated to Oliver housing

August 01, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

A long-planned effort to revitalize Baltimore's Oliver neighborhood got a jump-start last night with a commitment for millions of dollars from the city and private investors.

Members of the faith-based nonprofit organization Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) said that the money will help their plans to build affordable homes on what is now vacant property blighting the neighborhood.

The group hopes to start construction in February on 40 affordable homes along Preston Street.

"It's a new beginning. It's the start of momentum," said the Rev. Calvin E. Keene, pastor of Oliver's Memorial Baptist Church.

"When these houses get erected it will be the first visible sign of revitalization in Oliver. It will make a big difference about how people feel about the community where they live."

Efforts to improve Oliver intensified in 2002 after drug dealers firebombed the Dawson family rowhouse, killing the parents and five children asleep inside. After the fire, BUILD used a grant to hire a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group, the Reinvestment Fund, to draw up a plan for the area.

Eight BUILD churches in Oliver have raised more than $1 million for the plan, and city, state and federal lawmakers have also contributed money.

Yesterday Mayor Sheila Dixon announced the city would give another $1.2 million - on top of $1.2 million the city has contributed already.

The money will help buy down the mortgages of the finished homes to make them more affordable, Keene said.

Tony Deering, former CEO of the Rouse Co. and now chairman of the Rouse Foundation, has raised nearly $15 million that will help build the homes.

Deering said yesterday that the money is coming from his foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, M&T Bank and others. He said those entities saw an opportunity to leverage the development that will come with the planned Johns Hopkins hospital biotechnology park.

"That's produced a level of energy and encouraged me that this could be a real dynamic for the neighborhood," he said. "This is a multifaceted, long-term effort that I think has legs."

The city's housing department will begin seeking bids for the properties later this week in response to BUILD's unsolicited proposal to buy the land. City officials say they'll choose a developer for the property by Nov. 7.

The first homes that BUILD plans to target will be on Preston Street between Caroline Street and Broadway.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure residents in the Oliver community have first preference in purchasing these homes," said BUILD organizer Rob English.

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