As I try to recall the moment when my concern really set in, I remember walking into a dark, narrow hallway inside the front door of a brick rowhouse in Pigtown. My real estate agent, Clay Tucker, scanned the walls for the light switch. When he found it, I almost wished he hadn’t.
We passed by the dingy white, peeling walls to the winding staircase for the second-floor, $975-a-month apartment. I scanned the no-frills place and compared the space to my house in South Carolina. Our mortgage is $1,040 a month for a three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath ranch house on a quarter acre with granite countertops, a fenced-in yard dotted with big shade trees and a car port.
(I know – welcome to Baltimore/the Mid-Atlantic/a city.)
I am sure the apartment could suit someone, but not me. We got back in the car and tried again.
Pigtown, if not that apartment, endeared itself to me straight away. I loved the mural with marching pigs and men working on a railroad. The proximity to Camden Yards is terrific and I felt safe seeing all the men and women walking to and from their houses in scrubs, presumably coming from the nearby University of Maryland campus.
I had also checked out a house on the border of Federal Hill for $1,100 a month. The place was OK. It had some perks like a finished basement and totally remodeled bathroom, but the living room and kitchen combined were slightly larger than my college dorm room and the backyard was nothing more than a single cement block with a fence around it. Parking seemed to be a nightmare.
I loved the tips y’all sent in. Renee, turns out you were right about living to the west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (more on that in a minute). @Brooksiefan526, thanks for mentioning the water taxi. That sounds awesome! Micah, I covered politics in South Carolina for five years, and, oh, the stories I could share.
Back in Pigtown, er, Washington Village, my real estate agent and I made our way to Ramsay Street. A great rowhouse with a loft bedroom, fireplace, walk-in closet, outside courtyard and exposed brick wall was for rent for $1,100 a month. I could even see the lights of Camden Yards from the back deck.
The place smelled a little like wet dog, but I was ready to take it on with my superior cleaning skills. It was far better than anything else I’d seen around the $1,000-mark, so I circled the address and drew a star next to it in my notebook. When my agent and I had seen all the places on our list, I asked him to call the owner and talk about a deal.
The next day at work, I brought the flier in and gushed to all my co-workers that I had found a place. I had driven by two different times, later that night and the next morning to check out the scene.
A podmate was the first one to put her thoughts bluntly. When things got quiet, she looked over and said, “Just so you know, I would not live in Pigtown.” She couched it by adding that she’s more of fan of the suburbs.
A few other reporters mentioned similar concerns about how the neighborhood was on the edge of a big takeoff during the economic boom but lost some traction when the market sank.
In typical reporter fashion, seeing both sides of the argument, a couple of my co-workers encouraged me. They said that I could be part of helping an up-and-coming neighborhood turn the corner and that I could help ensure my own safety by taking precautions, like not leaving my GPS in the car and being aware of my surroundings when I walked outside at night.
But the thing that changed my mind was when Jessica Anderson, who used to cover crime on the night shift, pulled up CrimeBaltimore.com and a search for the last year turned up a nearby shooting and more thefts and burglaries than I was comfortable with.
And just like that, the apartment hunt was on again.