Residents protest housing lack near redevelopment

October 19, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,melissa.harris@baltsun.com

East Baltimore residents marched yesterday to the office of the nonprofit organization overseeing the redevelopment of 88 acres around Johns Hopkins Hospital, protesting the lack of homeownership opportunities for displaced residents wanting to return to or remain in the neighborhood.

More than 550 buildings have been demolished and about 500 families relocated.

But Donald Gresham, president of the Save Middle East Action Committee Inc., which represents area residents, said many homeowners had to take out mortgages on their new homes, while they had owned the previous ones outright before they were demolished. He also said that promises made by the developer - such as a house-for-a-house program that would solve that issue - have not materialized.

"They were whole before they left, but they're not whole now," Gresham said.

Jack Shannon, president of the East Baltimore Development Inc., the private nonprofit in charge of the redevelopment effort, told the protesters that although the project has seen successes, it has fallen short in the area of homeownership.

"The rental properties are 100 percent leased, and nearly half of the residents are former East Baltimore residents," Shannon said. "But there's no homeownership units, and that's what we're frustrated about."

Shannon blamed the delays on the failure of insurance companies - most notably AIG, which nearly went bankrupt before the U.S. government intervened - that has made it difficult for contractors to get bonds. He also said there are fewer contractors capable of doing "green construction" taking on new projects.

The $1.8 billion redevelopment project offers a mix of uses: private medical research and technology buildings plus housing, a school and job training.

Shannon said the neighborhood was 70 percent vacant before the project began in 2002.

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