City announces $10 million redevelopment of vacant rowhouses in West Baltimore neighborhood of Upton

After seeing project after project fail in her West Baltimore neighborhood, Janet Allen had a message for the dozens gathered Tuesday to mark a nearly $10 million redevelopment plan for struggling Upton: “I still believe!”

Allen said she was “green” in 2002 when she spent $83,000 to buy a town home in the Heritage Crossing development, situated in a place where a housing project once stood and amid blocks of abandoned and falling down houses. At the time, she said, she did not know what it meant for a community to be redlined — or disinvested in.

But in the years since, she said she has come to understand as she has witnessed the continuing delays in the redevelopment of the 1960s-era State Center office complex, the dissolution of plans for the $152 million Superblock, the cancellation of an east-west light rail line and the city’s inability to deal with the blighted houses that line the streets in her neighborhood.

All the while, Allen said she’s prayed. Watching the fanfare Tuesday — that drew residents to their front stoops and a gathering of dignitaries, including acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Secretary Kenneth C. Holt of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development — gave Allen a sense that the selection of a developer to rehabilitate 38 vacant city-owned properties in the 800 blocks of Harlem and Edmondson avenues will bring real change.

“While I realize this is the first step, it is a very important step,” Allen said. “I want to encourage everyone to keep on stepping.”

Upton Renaissance, a new partnership led by Baltimore developer Dean Harrison, made a deal with the city to restore the rowhouses and eventually sell them to homeowners. Construction is expected to start within a year, but the final details will depend on ongoing negotiations between the developer and the city. Most of the homes, 28, are on Harlem Avenue. The rest are on Edmondson Avenue.

The project is being made possible through a mix of local, state and federal dollars, including money from Gov. Larry Hogan’s Project CORE, established to demolish or stabilize some 4,000 houses through this summer. Overall, the redevelopment is expected to cost more than $8 million. An additional $1 million will be spent stabilizing the houses.

Baltimore Housing selected the developer for the Upton project through a competitive bidding process. A selection panel screened the applicants and picked Upton Renaissance, which includes Tower Hill Harrison Development, Parris Development and Stanton View Development. Harrison, the principal on the project, declined to speak to a reporter.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said rowhouse restoration is part of a larger investment strategy for the west side. Other projects include upgrades to the Avenue Market and requests for proposals to rehab the Upton Mansion nearby on West Lanvale Street.

The city Department of Housing and Community Development announced in February a new era of neighborhood investment. Under the framework, Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North make up one of four zones that will receive a capital budget to carry out a community vision for creating more affordable housing and dealing with abandoned properties.

“These neighborhoods are really poised for transformative growth in the near term, and that takes investment,” Braverman said. “There is new capital, new partnerships and new opportunities.”

Young, who is serving as mayor in Catherine Pugh’s stead during her indefinite leave of absence, said he wants the Upton renovation project to bring more homeowners back to the community.

“Today is a day we’re making good on promises to this area that has long been neglected,” Young said. “Today represents all of the pieces coming together.

“Homeownership is a powerful tool to disrupt intergenerational poverty, foster wealth generation and stabilize neighborhoods.”

Holt said city and state subsidies will make it possible to pay the costs to rehab the properties and then sell them to people at affordable costs. He estimated that if each costs roughly $250,000 to rehab, the subsidies can knock $50,000 to $60,000 off the sales price.

Looking up at the ornate brick facades on the three-story houses built a century ago, the state housing secretary wondered aloud about the potential. He noted that similar houses in Washington were selling for seven figures.

“This is where the true value is for homeownership,” Holt said. “I believe the momentum is just beginning to build.”

Across the street from the gathering, 68-year-old Willie Burnett and 82-year-old Betty Gause watched from the marble steps outside their Harlem Avenue home that is appraised at $45,000.

Burnett said the vacant houses draw rats and sometimes bricks fall into the street. He worries when it rains or snows that a whole house will collapse, as some have throughout the city.

Gause said when she moved into the house almost 50 years ago, it was “the most beautiful block you ever did want to see.” And she believes it will be again.

“You just got to wait,” she said. “It’s a process.”

“It’s going to change,” Burnett said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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