Hogan's blight program meets skepticism in Sandtown

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
In face of criticism, Hogan says parks surely are "better than abandoned, dangerous buildings."

As Gov. Larry Hogan played tag with kids in West Baltimore Tuesday, Nneka Nnamdi watched from the sidewalk and muttered curse words under her breath.

Hogan had returned to the Sandtown-Winchester block he'd visited six months ago, when he announced a multimillion-dollar plan to tear down the city's vacant houses and replace them with green space or new development. On Tuesday, he came to tout that program and others that he says will help the city.

But as Hogan played with schoolchildren in a new block-long park in the 1000 block of N. Stricker St. with benches and freshly planted flowers, Nnamdi, 39, and other West Baltimore residents were skeptical. The other side of the street was still vacant home after vacant home. There was already another park around the corner.

"It's too little, and it's too late," Nnamdi said of the state program, and gestured to the remaining block of vacants. "You can't possibly love a community and let it come to this.

"You can't do this and make me think that you're showing love to the community, because you're not," she said. "If you really love the people of Baltimore, this would have never been this way."

Hogan shrugged off her criticism.

"I understand concerns — things are changing — but certainly a place for kids to play is a lot better than abandoned, dangerous buildings that are collapsing and falling down and could potentially kill some of the kids in the neighborhood," he said.

Terrance Scott, 38, saw it as state-sponsored gentrification of his neighborhood.

"This is temporary," Scott said. "They're going to build bigger houses for people, houses that we can't afford to buy."

Hogan sees it as the start of a "major" wave of demolition projects to create a "rapid" transformation. His plan has the backing of the city's mayor, its delegation of state lawmakers and community leaders.

Marcy Gill, 59, said she'd probably sit on that park's benches, but she asked whether building it should be a priority.

"It's nice, don't get me wrong," Gill said. "But there are other things they could focus on. Everybody needs housing."

Hogan, a former real estate developer, said that when he tours Baltimore neighborhoods, the No. 1 concern is blight.

"Many of these houses have looked this way for 20 or 30 or 40 years, and [residents] said, 'When is someone going to do something about it?' I decided to do something about it," Hogan said.

The General Assembly approved the governor's plan to spend about $9 million this year and about $18 million in each of the next few years to tear down blocks of vacant houses owned by the city.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the work, is negotiating contracts to demolish 463 properties in more than 70 locations across the city. Hogan said he expects demolition to accelerate rapidly in late August or early September.

Officials have prioritized work near schools that are being rebuilt under a deal that will funnel $1 billion into replacing or renovating about two dozen buildings over the next few years.

Hogan announced that Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carver Vocational-Technical high schools will host a program to let students graduate with an associate's degree and a foot in the door with some of the region's most coveted employers.

The "P-TECH" programs, modeled after a program developed by IBM in New York, is open to incoming ninth-graders from anywhere in Baltimore.

The six-year program will teach students skills in computer science and health care, grant them paid internships, and pair them with mentors at IBM, the Johns Hopkins University, Kaiser Permanente and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Upon graduation, the students will be first in line for jobs at those employers, Hogan and company representatives said at a news conference.

Four other schools — in Western Maryland, on the Eastern Shore and in Prince George's County — will also get programs, officials said.

ecox@baltsun.com

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