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Rehabbed homes in historically black Winters Lane community bring affordable rental units

Louis Diggs, a local historian, speaks in the Winters Lane community about the area's history during a ceremony for the completion of affordable renting units.
Louis Diggs, a local historian, speaks in the Winters Lane community about the area's history during a ceremony for the completion of affordable renting units. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Eveon Jackson has lived in the Winters Lane community in Catonsville for 18 years, but never in a new or renovated building.

But by mid-July, she’ll have moved into a newly renovated home on Roberts Avenue, where she’ll pay a monthly rent that’s determined based on her salary. The rental unit is part of a duplex, has a fully carpeted second floor, hardwood laminate on the first floor and beautifully tiled bathrooms.

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“It’s amazing,” Jackson said of the building that will become her new home.

Jackson, who works as a teaching assistant for Baltimore County Head Start, is able to move into a newly rehabilitated home because of a public-private partnership between St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center Inc., Baltimore County, and state and federal agencies.

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Officials from St. Ambrose, the state and Baltimore County gathered Wednesday morning in Catonsville to celebrate the completion of the first phase of a planned affordable renting rehabilitation in the Winters Lane community.

East Towson, a historically black neighborhood in the heart of the suburban town, is the kind of place where people put down roots.

Baltimore County started working with St. Ambrose in 2015 to to begin the Winters Lane Housing Rehabilitation Project. Winters Lane was designated as a National Register Historic District in 2007.

The community has long been recognized as a hub for the black community in Catonsville. Many of the homes are over 100 years old and face significant structural issues, including damaged foundations.

St. Ambrose, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, purchases properties to develop them in order to create equal housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, according to its website.

To qualify to rent a unit from St. Ambrose, an individual must make 60% or less of the area median income, said David Sann, director of housing development for the nonprofit. The units in Winters Lane are being rented for about 40% of a person’s monthly income, he said.

The total budgeted amount for the Winters Lane rehabilitation project is about $2.8 million, including a total of about $1.3 million coming from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, about $1 million coming from county funds, about $250,000 coming from a grant funded by the state, and about $250,000 paid by St. Ambrose through a loan secured by the state.

Jackson said she did not really think about where should would be living, or where she would have to live, if a program like the one from St. Ambrose hadn’t been able to support her since the early 2000s.

If she weren’t about to move into a newly renovated home, she said, it would certainly be a goal of hers.

“It’s amazing that people have the kind of compassion to work to do something like this,” she said.

St. Ambrose and its government partners are working to complete four more duplex homes in the coming months in the Winters Lane community.

Living history

The Winters Lane community has been recognized as a hub for the black community in Catonsville since, at least, around the 1880s, when the U.S. census said about 500 African-Americans were living in the region, according to county officials.

The buildings that are being rehabilitated as a part of the housing project are at least 100 years old, and have a distinct historic character, said Kevin O’Reilly, a project manager for St. Ambrose.

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Some had issues with their foundations, sloping floors and rotted joists; others were just beat up by expected decades of wear and tear. All of them were small and at times inconvenient, O’Reilly said.

The rehabbed units have increased in size from about 750 square feet to over 1,200 square feet, and the stairs have been reworked so they’re not as steep and narrow as they once were.

St. Ambrose also had to install a sprinkler system in the units and bring them up to “modern rental standards,” by providing new appliances, installing a new air conditioning system, plumbing work, electrical work, installing new siding and installing new windows.

People who grew up in Turner Station, an African-American enclave in Baltimore County, recall a place where "everybody knew everybody" and church and family ruled. Many went on to great success, despite racial challenges. Now some are working to revive the neighborhood.

And, because of the community’s historic significance, the developers worked to maintain the building’s original overall form.

The duplexes retained their general shape, even though their footprint expanded. Windows were reinstalled in the same places as their original positions, and the configuration of the units’ front porches remained the same, too.

Louis Diggs, an 88-year-old historian who lived in Winters Lane for over 50 years, said he was glad to see the work done and to see the historic character of the homes maintained.

He called the work a “blessing” for the community.

“I have to admit, people coming in [and doing this work] is a lot better than a house just sitting. It’d be falling down,” Diggs said.

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