Housing officials tour new project in blighted west-side area

State and local officials joined Shaun Donovan, the nation's top housing official, on a tour Friday of construction efforts that they hope will give residents of a blighted corner of West Baltimore affordable and environmentally minded housing.

The development, which aims to renovate or build 111 low-income apartments by the end of this year, is in the Poppleton neighborhood, where boarded-up buildings sit alongside tidy, well-kept homes.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development provided $1.5 million of federal stimulus funding to outfit apartments in the development with features that include double-pane windows, cabinets free of formaldehyde and energy-efficient appliances.

Donovan said the Poppleton project and others like it are critical to President Barack Obama's goal of making America globally competitive in producing energy-efficient technology, which the president emphasized in this week's State of the Union address.

The grant to the Poppleton project is part of $250 million set aside to retrofit HUD-subsidized apartment units across the country with environmentally friendly features, he said.

"Many of these units were built in the 1930s, and lead paint continues to be a real scourge," Donovan, the HUD secretary, said in an interview.

Construction has been in progress at the site, near West Fayette Street and North Fremont Avenue, since late October. Donovan spoke at an event after the tour with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Raymond A. Skinner, the state's secretary of housing and community development.

Two other projects in the city have been granted HUD money to be retrofitted with energy-efficient technology, including affordable housing for seniors at the Gallagher Mansion in North Baltimore and the Bon Secours Hollins Terrace apartments in the Franklin Square neighborhood.

The Poppleton area, adjacent to the University of Maryland's BioPark, has been the focus of city and private development efforts in recent years, and the current project is the second phase of a $60 million development led by Hampstead Partners Inc.

The first phase was completed last year and resulted in 120 units of affordable housing called Poppleton Place.

"Phase 3 will take care of the last of the blighted units in this area," said Chris Foster, president of Hampstead Partners. A fourth phase, including a mixed-use commercial building, is planned.

Crews are now renovating about 30 vacant units, Foster said. When the work is completed, around March, residents will be moved into those apartments and their old ones will be renovated, he said.

The National Housing Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving affordable housing nationwide, also provided a $450,000 loan for the project, which is featured on the group's website as one of its "Success Stories."

"We saw kind of a diamond in the rough," said Michael Bodaken, president of the trust. The trust decided to fund the project to ensure that new investment in and around Poppleton would not lead to a complete loss of affordable and low-income housing stock, he said.

For residents, the renovations are coming not a moment too soon.

"We're really overdue for it," said Patricia Rogers, a 28-year resident of the neighborhood. "The longer you wait to get things fixed, the worse they get."

Among the problems in her two-bedroom apartment, Rogers said, are paper-thin walls and sewage that backs up into her living room.

Audrey Robinson, 71, president of the community group that has pushed for the development, said Poppleton residents have long suffered poor and uneven heating and shoddy construction, even after the apartments were renovated years ago.

"Everything just kind of fell apart," she said. "I think a lot of kids got a lot of colds."



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