A sense of deja vu pervaded Baltimore City's "Vacants to Value" housing ceremony on McCabe Avenue on Tuesday.
It was raining on Tuesday, Nov. 13 just like it was in May 2011 when the city with great fanfare demolished five vacant, uninhabitable row houses in the 700 block. Just like last year, the street was a study in blight. And like last year, Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake and Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano talked grandly of the future upgrading of the Woodbourne-McCabe community.
But this time, there were no bulldozers on the block. Instead, tents and a podium were set up in two empty lots where two row houses were demolished last year, and shovels sat in the muddy dirt as city officials and community leaders broke ground for 21 new houses which Habitat for Humanity for the Chesapeake plans to build in the 600-800 blocks of McCabe Avenue, off York Road.
"The last time I was here, we were knocking down some houses," Rawlings-Blake told a throng of residents and reporters. "I told you then, we're not done."
"First, we wanted to get rid of those (houses) that weren't rehabable — and then, we wanted to line up with Habitat," Graziano told the Baltimore Messenger. And he told the crowd, "This is really kind of a microcosm of everything we're doing with Vacants to Value."
The city and its "community partners" — including the Woodbourne/McCabe Community Association, Neighborhood Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity for the Chesapeake — announced last year that they would rehab 23 vacant properties over the next two years using federal economic stimulus funds, and sell seven other vacant houses through tax sale foreclosures as part of an overall plan to purchase, demolish and redevelop 34 such properties in northeast Baltimore — a fraction of the 600 vacant buildings citywide, officials said.
Habitat for Humanity, based in Halethorpe, hopes to have the houses rehabbed and ready for occupancy by the end of next summer, said chief executive officer Mike Posko. Habitat for Humanity purchased 21 houses from the city for $5,000 to $15,000 each, Posko said.
The houses will be sold to people who meet income eligibility requirements — those who have jobs but earn 25 to 60 percent of median area incomes. Those who qualify will receive no-interest mortgages, but must contribute 200 hours of "sweat equity," and must take 50 hours of financial literacy training through Habitat for Humanity, Posko said.
Nearly qualified is Kisha Gladden, 38, a single mother of three, one of them autistic, and who works for a Head Start program in south Baltimore and rents housing in west Baltimore. She told the Messenger she wants to be closer to the city public charter school Kipp Academy, where her twin boys, 11, go to school.
The house she is buying is currently uninhabitable, but she said, 'It doesn't bother me. I'm going to drive by it and know" that it is being rehabbed for her.
Gladden was one of several speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony. Another was Monica Gaines, president of the Woodbourne-McCabe Community Association, who has been pushing for such a program for much of the past decade and was the first to lobby the city to address blight on McCabe Avenue.
City Councilman Bill Henry, who represents the York Road corridor, recalled that he and Gaines yelled at Graziano to do something about area blight, even before Henry came on the council.
Noting that she has seven grandchildren, Gaines told the crowd, "I'm excited that I'm standing for them today."