If all goes according to plan, the historic African-American community of Winters Lane in Catonsville will see $2.45 million worth of construction for housing revitalization by the end of the year.
Ten units, or five duplexes, owned by the nonprofit St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, will be renovated. St. Ambrose officials said the frontage of the 100-year-old homes will look unchanged, but about 400 square feet will be added to each, along with significant structural repairs.
The homes will be repaired using $250,000 in state funds, and an additional $2.2 million committed from the county and federal governments, according to St. Ambrose Rental Services Director Bill Rubin.
Charlotte Wood, leader of Concerned Citizens of Catonsville, a community group anchored in Winters Lane, said she hopes the project will jump-start other revitalization projects in the area.
"We need to get a project going, to show that there are actually things that can happen," Wood said.
The project came about after discussions between the community and county officials, Wood said. "It's important for us to be a catalyst for change," she said.
Residents are proud of their homes, Wood said, as is shown through gardening and tidy porches. She hopes the revitalization project will help the insides match the outside.
The living room floor of one of the units, 10 Shipley Avenue, currently slants to the left, dropping down a few inches near the center of the building.
"These houses have serious structural issues," St. Ambrose Housing Development Director Daniel Sann said.
The foundations of the buildings, built between 100 and 115 years ago, need significant work, he said.
Most of the floors in the houses' two bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms dip at the center. There are no fire breaks between the duplexes. Some floor boards are loose. New drywall was put in during a renovation a few decades ago, officials said, but after a century the structure of the house is failing, and the other homes are in similar condition.
To repair the foundations of the buildings, the structures will be lifted into the air, Sann said.
"It's a complicated project," he said.
Sann also called the units functionally obsolete — the staircases are narrow and steep, and the two bedrooms in the house are barely large enough to fit a full-size bed. The buildings aren't up to code, let alone market standards Sann said — the 400-square-foot expansion will make the bedrooms and living rooms more spacious.
Sann said the group hopes to change 10 Shipley and nine other sagging, cramped units on Shipley and Roberts avenues into quality affordable housing units.
An additional five homes are planned for a second phase of revitalization at some point in the future.
Currently rents for the units vary, according to Rubin, from as low as $650 to as high as $1,050. Some of their tenants use vouchers from the county to help pay rent, chipping in 30 percent of their income instead of a static rate.
People who use vouchers would pay the same rent when the renovation is over, Rubin said. For others, rent will go up, he said, but would still be in the affordable housing range – affordable to residents making at or below 60 percent of the area's median income.
"Our intent is not to make it unaffordable for them," he said.
Wood said plans are also in the works for a bike lane that would run along the Winters Lane roadway, connecting to Edmondson Avenue. The revitalization of the 10 houses is hopefully the first of many improvement efforts, she said.