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Perkins Homes redevelopment to add more market-rate units, though majority will still be affordable housing

Residents of Perkins Homes are in different phases of transition as the 75-year-old public housing development in East Baltimore is slated for demolition and redevelopment.
Residents of Perkins Homes are in different phases of transition as the 75-year-old public housing development in East Baltimore is slated for demolition and redevelopment. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The redevelopment centered around the blighted Perkins Homes area between Harbor East and the Johns Hopkins medical campus will add more market-rate apartment units to its design, officials said this week.

The community revitalization project, funded in part with a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will now be composed of 2,172 units between the Perkins, Somerset and Oldtown areas, according to a supplemental tax increment funding application. Previously, the plan called for about 1,600 units, but now more units at different price points have been added to help fund the project, officials from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City said.

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Of the total units, 55% will be public housing and “affordable” units, which in this case means will be priced for households earning between 30% and 80% of the area median income. The redevelopment will replace, on a one-for-one basis, the 652 public housing units at Perkins Homes, with 275 of them to move to the Somerset neighborhood. The former Somerset Homes were torn down a decade ago and never rebuilt.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development issued a joint statement Wednesday clarifying that while the total number of public housing units will stay the same, the 546 moderately priced and 974 market-rate options will add much-needed cash flow to the project. The multiphase, mixed-use development is slated to cost more than $1 billion, using a mix of city and state dollars and proceeds from tax increment financing.

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Renderings for the Somerset portion of the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Project show a walkable community with high-rise buildings and a pocket park.
Renderings for the Somerset portion of the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Project show a walkable community with high-rise buildings and a pocket park. (Grimm and Parker)

The TIF proceeds would cover about $75 million of the cost, according to the application.

In recent years, tax increment financing deals have become the backbone of several city development projects. The city uses the increased taxes from the development as a subsidy to pay off the debt, instead of committing that money to pay for other city services, such as schools or police. The city expects to collect more money from the pricier units that can, in turn, help pay for the public housing and more affordable ones.

The expensive redevelopment project — which will also include a new school, two new parks, and some street, sidewalk and landscape improvements — is one of many projects meant to rehabilitate parts of Baltimore that have long been excluded from access to capital. The TIF-backed project will give new life in particular to Perkins Homes, a public housing complex built in the 1940s that wasted away for years and exposed residents to extremely poor conditions.

But opponents have said that the plan could pigeonhole residents of the new communities into housing they do not want. They’re concerned Perkins Homes residents, who were relocated for the construction, could end up being moved to the new development at the Somerset Homes site — located away from the waterfront and near the city jail — while wealthier, white residents take over the redeveloped Perkins area.

At a tense city finance panel meeting on Monday where the supplement TIF application came under fire, some criticized the city’s decision to add more units outside of the “deeply affordable” category. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young asked city officials to provide data elaborating on their need to add the new units so the “ACLU doesn’t say we are moving Black people away from Harbor East,” according to a report from the Baltimore Business Journal.

But housing officials said the mayor’s comments mischaracterize the update to the development.

“The PSO Transformation Initiative ... is designed to reverse decades of disinvestment and intergenerational poverty,” read a joint statement from the city’s housing authority and housing department. “Under the terms of the [HUD] Choice Neighborhood Grant Agreement, HABC and the City are required to replace existing public housing units on a one-for-one basis within the PSO footprint. Of the total units, 55 percent will be public and affordable units with most of them being at the new Perkins site.”

Representatives for the mayor declined to comment.

The project will also feature a grocery store and some retail and commercial space, though the majority of the funds will support the residential aspect. A mixed-use residential and retail space designated for graduate, nursing and medical students will be built immediately to the east of the Somerset development. The former Hendler Creamery site will be transformed into another multi-family building, and the Car Barn will redeveloped into retail and office space.

A hotel and “entrepreneurial hub” are also expected to take shape in the area. All work is expected to be completed by 2025.

Four developers have signed on to the project after submitting designs to the city’s request for proposal application: Beatty Development Group, McCormack Baron Salazar, Mission First Housing Development and Henson Development Company. Beatty Development, the lead developer, forwarded requests for comment to the city’s housing authority.

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