Looking up: Despite blighted housing and crime, Baltimore neighborhood sees itself as worth investing in

For 50 years, Mark Washington has called only one place home: Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood.

“I grew up here. My fondest memories are here,” said Washington, whose family moved to the area in 1957. “This area was all that a child could want.”

The Northeast Baltimore neighborhood “is unlike any other” in the city, Washington said.

Bounded by Loch Raven Boulevard, East 25th Street and Harford Road, it’s in a central location with nearby amenities such as Lake Montebello, Herring Run Park and Clifton Park’s 18-hold golf course, which lies right outside the neighborhood lines. Also located in Clifton Park is historic Clifton Mansion, the former home of Capt. Henry Thompson, a War of 1812 veteran, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins.

“Imagine growing up here, and your parents say, ‘Go outside and play.’ And right outside your door, you have these wonderful parks with pools, golf courses, tennis courts, and just miles and miles of endless greenery. … And a beautiful lake to ride around. So when you step out your door, you were in this wonderland,” Washington said.

The area features rowhouses built around the 1920s. And with schools such as City College and Monarch Academy located inside the neighborhood and with the Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University close by, Coldstream Homestead Montebello (referred to as CHUM) could be an attractive area for families, he said.

Washington, the executive director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., aims to transform the area. The association focuses on building a sense of community, hosting events at least once a month to get residents together, such as Neighborhood Lights with Light City and movie nights.

He is also hoping to create more greenery for residents to enjoy, in addition to existing community gardens on Harford Road, Jennifer Avenue and 30th Street, and 29th Street and Hillen Road. There’s also Sculpture Park, a vacant lot that was turned into a community garden and art space.

“When this community transforms, people are going to be able to walk the interior of this neighborhood from one lush green space to another. And be surrounded by all this greenery that you see surrounding the community,” Washington said.

Part of his plan is also to get rid of the blighted housing in the community. More than 90 housing units on Tivoly Avenue have been demolished as part of the city’s Vacants to Values program, and demolition is now being completed on a section of houses along Fenwick Avenue.

By the end of 2018, Washington said, demolition along stretches of Tivoly, Fenwick and Hugo avenues will be completed.

“What was suppressing and depressing real estate prices in this area was the fact that you had this glut of abandoned properties just sucking the life out of people’s investment,” he said.

Even with the abandoned properties and demolition, resident Chauncey Carter is optimistic.

“I see it as a neighborhood on the rise,” he said. “I bought into the city. I bought into the neighborhood.”

The 27-year-old Morgan State graduate moved into a rowhouse on 29th Street about four years ago, buying a formerly vacant home for $110,000 that had been rehabilitated. He said he believes the neighborhood will be a good place to raise his 3-year-old daughter.

“I feel like CHUM is the greatest investment in the city,” Carter said. “With what we have and the neighborhoods that surround us and our closeness to everything — we’re basically in the center of the city — i just think it creates an ideal place for young urbanites — yuppies, whatever you like to call us — to live.”

Eric Clash, a 39-year-old real estate agent with KLR Real Estate, echoed those sentiments.

He said he has sold about six or seven homes in the area. For families, school plays a major role in deciding where to buy a home, he said, and the presence of City College, along with amenities such as Lake Montebello, are added benefits.

He described the neighborhood as a “thriving area for new homebuyers, first-time homebuyers.”

“The demographics are changing in that community,” he said. “You have more home ownership versus less rentals.”

But despite the neighborhood’s potential, Washington doesn’t shy away from the realities of neighborhood: crime. A Baltimore Sun investigation found that CHUM is statistically the most lethal of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Of the 16 people who were shot in the neighborhood in 2016, eight died.

He said funerals are held for those who can’t afford it at the community association’s center. The group also contributes money for burial arrangements. And Washington said it might be the only neighborhood to have an official chaplain to assist grieving families.

Drugs have also been a pervasive problem. With the aid of police and local businesses, Washington said, the community association helped shut down some drug corners. His approach was to confront people selling drugs on the corner, identify those who he said needed to be “transitioned out of the neighborhood” and rely on businesses that were supportive.

Once the drug activity was moved off Tivoly, “we saw a ripple effect. We saw a direct reduction in crime,” he said. “But there was so much crime here to begin with that that was just a drop in the bucket.”

Doreion Colter, who has lived in his home at the intersection of Tivoly Avenue and 30th Street for 13 years, knows the drug problem well.

“Thirteen years ago, this was one of the major drug corners ... probably in the city. This intersection right here was actually an open-air drug market,” the 72-year-old said.

But he said he was never afraid to live there, adding that he knew how to handle the situation. He didn’t hesitate to confront people on the corner near his home.

“I knew how to slowly get it to calm down and move out,” he said. “When I moved here, I felt that God had placed me here for the purpose of cleaning up this corner.”

By working with the community association, his fellow residents and law enforcement, the issue subsided. He said police made Tivoly a primary target.

“It didn’t bother me,” he said of the activity on the corner. “But the thing is, that’s not going to take place on my property and neither in my neighborhood. And I was honest with them. I really did not care what they did. They just couldn’t do it on this corner, and I prefer they not even do it in this area.”

He said it bothers him that his intervention didn’t solve the problem entirely, most likely just moving it to a different area of the city. But at the same time, “that’s not my responsibility. I’m not responsible for this city.”

But the crime doesn’t necessarily define the neighborhood. For Carter, it wasn’t a deterrent. Instead, he saw an area where he could put down roots and grow.

“Crime has no address,” Carter said. “Crime can happen anywhere. We do have issues in our neighborhood, and I wouldn’t say that we don’t.

“The amenities that the neighborhood offers totally outweigh the negative aspects that may deter others.”

At a glance

2010 Census data

Population: 7,266

Families: 1,714

Total housing units: 3,140

Home sales via MRIS courtesy of Live Baltimore

2016 sales and median price: 68, $24,500

2015 sales and median price: 87, $29,700

2014 sales and median price: 78, $17,500

Amenities

Lake Montebello

Sculpture Garden, 1450 Homestead St.

Clifton Park Golf Course, 2701 St. Lo Drive

Nearby schools

City College, 3220 The Alameda

Monarch Academy, 2525 Kirk Ave.

Coldstream Park Elementary School, 1400 Exeter Hall Ave.

Crime

In 2016, Coldsteam Homestead Montebello had 455 incidents of crime, according to Open Baltimore. There were eight reported homicides and 16 reported shootings. Also that year, there were 56 reported auto thefts, 47 reported burglaries and 36 reported street robberies.

mpryce@baltsun.com

Follow me on Twitter @megpryce.

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