Neighborhoods thrive when they're home to a mix of residents who reflect a broad range of occupations found in a great city. That's the role of the so-called "creative class" - arts, design and media workers, computer programmers, educators, engineers and scientists - who have been so instrumental in creating lively new communities and driving economic development in post-industrial America.
The new apartment building at 26th and Howard streets is therefore just the kind of project Baltimore needs to turn around a once-vibrant pocket of the city. The building, a former tin factory on the western edge of Charles Village, occupies part of a block between Maryland Avenue and Howard Street and was recently renovated to offer affordable apartments to teachers and other moderately paid professionals, as well as low-rent office space to nonprofit groups.
The building's 40 apartments rent from $700 to $1,500 a month, and its architects consulted with teachers to come up with amenities - such as a copy center to prepare classroom materials - that have made it a big hit. The handsome 1874 structure is already fully leased, and there's a waiting list of about 100 people who want to move in.
By targeting teachers as tenants, the city and the project developers, Seawall Development Corp., have accomplished more than just providing a few more middle-income housing units in a city where they are in desperately short supply. They've also planted a seed for neighborhood revitalization and investment that will pay dividends if it helps lure more middle-income professionals to the area. But its biggest impact may be in encouraging an influx of educators who can add momentum to the city's school reform efforts.
City schools chief Andr?s Alonso has said his top priority is putting a good teacher in every classroom. Yet public school teachers, especially those just starting out, don't make big salaries, and they can't afford luxury apartments downtown. They are vital to rebuilding a school system capable of attracting middle-class families back to the city. But while they're at it, they need affordable apartments to come home to. If school reform is potentially one of the most effective economic development strategies the city can pursue, then creating attractive, safe and affordable housing for teachers has got to be part of the plan.
It's important, of course, for the city to continue working on affordable housing for low-income residents. Improving housing, education and health care remain key to revitalizing the city's most troubled neighborhoods. But Baltimore should jump at the chance to knit another pocket of moderately paid professionals like the teachers on Howard Street into the broader tapestry of Charles Village and nearby communities. Every new arrival helps stabilize those neighborhoods and in the process creates a richer, more vibrant city for us all.