Dust rose from the debris of Perkins Homes in East Baltimore as demolition began Thursday on one of the affordable housing development’s six remaining buildings, the latest step in the city’s plan to redevelop 244 acres of land stretching from Perkins, to Somerset and Oldtown Mall.
The $1 billion project, known as the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Plan, aims to create a mixed-income housing community of an estimated 1,882 units, including new affordable housing to replace the 629 soon-to-be demolished Perkins Homes units.
The city has partnered with Beatty Development on the mixed-use project that also will include market-rate apartments as well as provide space for a school, a grocery store, a health clinic and two public parks.
“With these bricks starting to come down, we are witnessing the end of an era,” said Janet Abrahams, CEO of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, in a news release. “The future of this community holds great promise as one of inclusion. You will see the manifestation of that promise very soon.”
The current project aims to create at least 1,345 units on the former sites of Perkins Homes and Somerset Homes. Of those units, 652 will be public housing units, 23 more units than were available in Perkins Homes.
These sites also will be home to approximately 304 so-called “tax credit units” for households that earn 30% to 80% of the average income for the area, as well as 389 market rate units, with all units being designed the same regardless of rental cost.
Future phases of the project are estimated to create 536 more units that will be primarily market rate units along with some tax credit units.
The first residents to move into the new Perkins, Somerset, Old Town redevelopment will settle in at 1234 McElderry Street in mid-July, according to HABC spokeswoman Ingrid Antonio.
Some former residents of Perkins Homes have raised concerns about whether the project will provide enough affordable housing, and whether the location of the affordable units will displace current Perkins residents.
But for 61-year-old Sharone Henderson, a 35-year resident of Perkins Homes, the demolition is a welcome change.
“I am glad to see it go,” Henderson said. “It was old, it was really old. It’s time for it to come down.”
Henderson said she always will have a sentimental attachment to Perkins Homes, where she raised her children, began work as a teacher’s aide for City Springs Elementary/Middle School and visited with neighborhood kids on her front steps after school.
“You were like family. We are a family,” Henderson said of the neighborhood.
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But she is hopeful about the new development, and, despite having to move out of her old home, Henderson is eager to move into one of the new units.
“Sometimes you have to do a little shaking up in order to get things right,” Henderson said.
Virdie Mitchell, 68, lived in Perkins Homes on and off from 1969 through the early 2000s, she said.
“When I first moved in, it was beautiful. You could eat off the ground,” Mitchell recalled.
Her first few decades in Perkins Homes were marked by front-step hangouts with neighbors, and nights when the whole complex left their doors open to feel the cool air. As Mitchell watched Perkins become rubble, she cried, remembering the love she felt for her old neighborhood, but happy to see her former home have a chance at a new life.
“I wanted to fly,” Mitchell said. “This is a better promise to live in a better place.”
Now a resident of Douglass Homes, Mitchell, hopes that when the redevelopment is done, she will be able to move back to the neighborhood she loved.