A neighborhood revived

August 28, 2007

The new townhouses at Orchard Ridge in Northeast Baltimore show that a neighborhood can reclaim itself, even where a failed public housing project once stood. The complex shows that city financial assistance isn't reserved solely for downtown development, and that its impact in outlying neighborhoods can be acutely felt. But more important, Orchard Ridge shows that affordable housing, both attractive and attractively priced, will increase homeownership in Baltimore.

That's an investment beyond bricks and mortar, and it directly relates to the tax base. The city invested about $26 million to redevelop the 59-acre site of the old Claremont Homes and Freedom Village apartments near Belair-Edison, a project that is refreshing an older neighborhood and infusing it with residents who might not have been able to afford a new home without the city's help.

The complex has easy access to Interstates 95 and 895, which means a reasonable commute to Aberdeen Proving Ground or Fort Meade. That should be a selling point to moderate-income military workers who are relocating to Maryland as part of the base realignment and closure plan and don't want to live in the suburbs.

A fall 2006 survey of BRAC-affected workers found that 18 percent of those who said they were likely to move had homes worth $151,000 to $300,000; Orchard Ridge townhouses are well within their means. Despite the national housing slump and a 21.1 percent drop in home sales in Maryland, developers of Orchard Ridge say the majority of homes in the first phase of the 442-unit project have sold since they went on sale July 5. That response shows both the need and the desire for mixed-income developments.

The city's decision to lease the land to the developers for less than $100, along with state and federal assistance, have made Orchard Ridge affordable for working single mothers, Washington school teachers and new middle-income residents that the city needs to attract and keep. The project, which includes 40 percent of market-rate housing, also will offer rental units and senior housing.

For too long, the perception has been that the city's focus was the Inner Harbor area. There was more truth to that than not. But Orchard Ridge and the coming Uplands redevelopment in Southwest Baltimore are projects that should be replicated - because the city's investment is paying off in more ways than one.

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