Whatever Baltimore's problems, it is blessed with a sound and varied housing stock that covers a wide range of prices. But as the middle class continues to move to the counties, the city faces a monumental challenge: how to prevent whole neighborhoods from becoming slums?
This is a socio-economic dilemma that cuts across all racial and ethnic lines. When the number of homeowners demanding middle-class standards plummets, city services from sanitation to code enforcement often worsen. Soon a neighborhood may well find itself fighting for survival as a desirable place to live.
This dilemma touches a number of areas throughout the city. It is particularly topical in the residential communities surrounding Patterson Park, many of which experienced impressive revitalization activity during the 1980s.
Some 30,000 people live in Patterson Park-area rowhouses, which has long been known for well-scrubbed marble steps, painted window screens and other manifestations of pride in home ownership. Many residents of these neighborhoods are of Eastern European descent.
That one-time ethnic monolith has developed into a multicultural mosaic in recent years as large numbers of African-Americans, Lumbee Indians and Hispanics have settled in. The demographic and racial composition is certain to change further as a considerable percentage of the white-ethnic population is in upper age brackets. Those seniors -- and their heirs -- are particularly susceptible to speculators who play with their fears and promise to pay cash for houses.
Six non-profit development organizations active in the Patterson Park area and 10 community organizations have now issued a warning. If the current trends of "destructive and destabilizing change" are not checked, the future viability of the area's diverse neighborhoods is endangered, they declare in an impressive 53-page study. If that in turn leads to plummeting property tax assessments, the city could lose $1.5 million in annual property tax revenue alone.
The groups propose a "Patterson Park Neighborhoods Intervention Initiative" to reverse these trends. The initiative would target specific blocks for such actions as intervention-buying of vacant houses, which then would be rehabilitated and sold to new homeowners. Attention would also be given to unkempt properties and noisy residents.
The price tag? $300,000 for a two-year pilot plan. We support the Patterson Park plan. It covers an area that is big and diverse enough to make a difference in reality and perceptions. It has significance far beyond East Baltimore.