Baltimore neighborhoods — and lives — reimagined

Central to our efforts to “move Baltimore forward” is our obligation and determination to address the stark disparity that exists in neighborhoods of our city that have long experienced neglect. The cost of this neglect is incalculable, though it can surely be measured by the lives lost to violence borne out of hopelessness and the gradual decline of individual and communal economic prospects. A further result is the self-perpetuating “tale of two cities” most often told from the perspective of the harsh realities experienced by generations of Baltimore residents who have waited too long, and mostly in vain, for a new, more promising beginning — or just a fair chance.

It’s for these reasons that as mayor I have made creating a new era of neighborhood investment among my most urgent priorities, and it is why we rightly celebrate the decision of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to select Baltimore as one of five cities nationwide to receive a Choice Neighborhood Grant in the amount of $30 million. This significant federal commitment will enable us to leverage more than $800 million in committed funding and investments from public, private and non-profit partners to renew the Perkins Somerset Oldtown community of East Baltimore.

The potential that this investment offers the nearly 6,000 residents and 2,122 households who reside within these 244 acres, minutes from our thriving waterfront, cannot be overstated. We will transform the Perkins Homes housing development and the surrounding community encompassing Somerset and Oldtown into a “community of choice” that is worthy of the lives of all who call this area of our city home, while engendering a fresh sense of unity among neighbors and pride in what will be a model 21st century urban neighborhood. A further objective of our transformation plan is to connect our thriving downtown and waterfront with a vibrant new anchor community in Baltimore’s historic and burgeoning east side, the growth of which is due in no small part to the significant investments and expansion of the Johns Hopkins Hospital system.

The current Perkins Homes complex — now over 75 years old — will be replaced over time and in stages with new multi-family, mixed income housing. None of the current residents will be evicted or displaced. To be clear, there will be a replacement unit for each and every one of the 629 existing Perkins units and within a larger mixed-income, multi-family community totaling 1,345 total new housing units. The plan is to carefully graduate Perkins’ residents to these new housing units, and we will do so by first developing new housing on vacant parcels outside of the current Perkins Homes footprint.

Since this transformation is first and foremost about people who have been deprived of essential resources and need a helping hand, we will be working with Urban Strategies, a national non-profit organization with an extensive track record of advancing community development strategies and transitioning individuals and families. They will be collaborating with our key local partners — including Johns Hopkins University, the Living Classrooms Foundation, City Springs School and a network of nearly two dozen local service providers — to address the health and wellness, employment/job training and education needs of current Perkins Homes residents.

The eventual transformation of this important corridor of our city confirms that solutions to complex challenges are within our grasp, particularly when there are strong private/public partnerships aligned to create impact and positive outcomes for those who stand to benefit most. We are equally committed to addressing the needs of neighborhoods throughout the city and have created new sources of capital for our neighborhoods, both to leverage investment in new development and to support our many community-led organizations that are essential to the viability of the neighborhoods they serve.

For example:

  • We announced in May the creation of the Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund to ensure that the projects regarded as critical to community development in our most neglected neighborhoods have a dedicated source of capital that will be used creatively to leverage long-overdue investments. We will secure an initial capitalization of over $50 million from the lease of city-owned parking garages and work with our partners in the private and philanthropic sectors, among others, to grow this pool of neighborhood investment funds to $1 billion in the next five years.
  • The Community Catalyst Grants program will provide $3 million annually in critical gap funding to ensure that priority projects, critical to community revitalization, can move forward. CCG will also provide $2 million each year in operating support for our community development partners who are the true leaders of community transformation.
  • We continue to accelerate the pace of demolition in partnership with the state of Maryland C.O.R.E. program because nothing dispirits the residents of a city and dampens the interest of would-be investors more than the persistence of blight. In particular, we have identified hundreds of abandoned houses for accelerated demolition in high crime areas where their elimination will support our violence reduction initiatives.
  • And we are equally focused on new construction and inclusive development in our most blighted neighborhoods in order to create new prospects for residents and enable these areas of our city to thrive once more. The four requests for proposals that we issued the week of July 11th are aimed at attracting competitive bids for the development of more than 200 units of new construction housing in the neighborhoods of Park Heights and Coldstream Homestead Montebello, in addition to rehabilitating more than 40 vacant stately townhomes in historic Upton.

Recognizing that the prospects of our children provide the surest indication of the prospects of our city’s future and the vitality of our neighborhoods, we will create more new schools in Baltimore City by next year than all those to be created in the same period throughout the rest of the state of Maryland combined. Our 21st Century Schools initiative — fueled by the $1 billion in capital funding that we worked to secure during my last year as a state senator — will fund the construction and renovation of a total of 11 new schools by 2019 (seven of which have or will be completed this year) and an additional 17 schools in the following years for a total of 28 new schools by 2022.

I continue to remind those who are every bit as impatient as I am for the evidence of positive change that trees do not grow through the roofs of houses overnight. We must work harder and faster and more collaboratively to counteract the neglect that was permitted to rob our city and its residents of the opportunities that could have, should have, been. Without question, Baltimore is a city on the rise. As we now lift those most in need of a place worthy to be called home, of a community in which there is the possibility to nurture young ones, enjoy simple pleasures and live a quality life — we lift us all.

Catherine E. Pugh is mayor of the City of Baltimore. Twitter: @MayorPugh50.

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