Friday, March 11, 2016

How to add 3000 households into previously dis-invested communities

Many residents of Baltimore know there is a Remington, Old Goucher, Charles Village, Barclay or Greenmount West. Only insiders and a few millennials would put any of those neighborhoods on their must-visit list, even though Remington has hit a certain notoriety as "up and coming" by now.

Even fewer people know that ten neighborhoods did the smart thing: They banded together, added Johns Hopkins University, MICA and the University of Baltimore to the array, rounded their board off with Baltimore City agency representation and significant non-profits such as the Goldsecker and Deutsch Foundations and set off to improve the entire area between Penn Station and Johns Hopkins University, long considered a weak link when it came to the health of neighborhoods along Baltimore's major north south arteries of Charles, St Paul and Calvert Streets, gaining new partners along the way. I am talking about the Central Baltimore Partnership, headed by Executive Director Ellen Janes, founded in 2006 and slowly having grown to be a model of successful neighborhood revitalization.
The ten neighborhoods in the Partnership


Wednesday evening was proof that the approach works. The presence of Housing Commissioner Graziano, Deputy Housing Commissioner Julia Day, Deputy Planning Director Theo Ngongang, representatives from the major area developers and even college teachers from as far as Luneburg, Germany who came to study art and urban development was one part of the proof.

The other part of the proff was what Steering Committee member Charlie Duff had to report about the current state and the future of housing in the area. Charlie Duff of Jubilee Baltimore is a significant stakeholder in the area (City Arts, The Center Theater) and always a good choice when it comes to eloquently presenting a case.

The starting point of Duff's talk was the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, a Call to Action: Findings and Recommendations, a ten year action plan with a very specific inventory and a clear set of goals, including the goal of adding 3000 new households to the area, eliminating all vacant houses and vacant lots while preserving and adding affordable housing and racial and economic diversity. To make these goals sound even more elusive, the strategy had been estimated to need $17.5 million of gap financing alone.


"In ten years, no matter where you are within these ten neighborhoods, you will be glad you are there" is how Duff described the desired outcome, adding that folks would see value of their homes stabilized, services available. So far this sounds like plenty other plans in Baltimore.
The title of the report
Now three years into the ten year duration of the plan, Duff reported astounding results: 265 houses had been rehabbed, 500 new housing units were constructed or are currently under construction and every one of the 10 communities in the partnership had seen a share of improvement. 151 units are designated as affordable. Especially Barclay and Remington have turned the corner with strong anchor developers such as TRF and Telesis in Barclay and Seawall in Remington. The Housing Department (HABC) has used RAD money to privatize and upgrade two public housing highrises and commercial and institutional investment on North Avenue has created at three vital hubs, MICA's Lazarus Center, The Motor House and Jubilee's Center Theater with the Impact Hub. Construction on the renovation of the Parkway Theater has begun.

Duff emphasized how much more has to be done: He mentioned 1,385 new construction units that need to be fitted into the community. He suggested that especially Remington, the Tony Cheng sites, Old Goucher parking lots and the Amtrak parcels would represent  excellent opportunities for development. $6.2 million of gap funding still need to be found, Duff reported. Remington is currently exploring the creation of an urban land trust on Miles Avenue, another tool of maintaining affordability.

Duff didn't tire to emphasize, supporting investments need to be done on the Waverly "main street" and especially on traffic calming. Duff and many on his task force are strong supporters of turning St Paul and Calvert Streets into two-way streets "so that these streets are no longer traffic raceways" as he put it, where "commuters have preference" and our residents along those streets "are discriminated against".  There were no representatives from B-DOT who would have said that the two-way study is completed, the matter is in the hands of Director Johnson and no decision has been made (Valerie Lecoeur, BDOT).

Everybody in the room agreed that the task of adding 3000 household in these 10 neighborhoods alone was eminently doable and that it was desirable to add new people and new structures into the old neighborhoods. A truly remarkable consensus made credible by the fact that so much of the plan had been achieved already. A walk through the neighborhoods shows what such consensus can create: Rehabilitation, gleaming new buildings of all kinds of scales (the biggest ones near JHU) and optimism. Greenmount West and Barclay are Housing's best examples for how Vacants to Value is supposed to work. Station North is an Arts District attracting national attention.

Those who put this all into the pejorative category of "gentrification" don't really know what they are talking about and should meet one day with the community leaders that together orchestrated this progress. And for the new Mayor: If this small area of Baltimore with about 20,000 residents can add 3000 new households, the overall city should be certainly able to do 10,000.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA