Center director aims to return pride to Sandtown-Winchester

Doug Stanton, 40, barely recognizes the Sandtown-Winchester he grew up in and recently returned home to as executive director of its Neighborhood Development Center.

The pride that engulfed the neighborhood has been supplanted by crime, illegal drugs and questions about whether millions of dollars in rehabilitation money will turn the West Baltimore community around.


Stanton, who is orchestrating the community's physical redevelopment, wants to make it better.

"People were proud to live in Sandtown," he said after a recent lunch at Heaven's Gate, a soul food restaurant on North Avenue. "There was a kinship network. Everybody was family. I hope we can make it a place of choice again."


After blight set in and suburban flight took off in the 1960s and 1970s, Sandtown-Winchester became a sort of urban experiment. Home to about 10,000 people, 23 percent of whom own homes, it was named one of five federally funded Homeownership Zones in the country in 1996, Stanton said.

With millions of dollars from the city, state and federal governments and private sources, local agencies began rehabilitating rowhouses and pushing homeownership. As officials envisioned it, residents would establish roots, businesses would invest, and the community would re-establish its identity. Progress has been slow, but Stanton is hopeful about Sandtown's future.

"It's definitely still a work in progress," he said. "The social issues have been extremely hard to tackle, the drug addiction and treatment. But we haven't failed."

In August, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mayor Martin O'Malley and other dignitaries celebrated with residents at the grand opening of Phase 1 of Sandtown-Winchester Square, a $30 million redevelopment project that will include 322 rehabilitated townhouses.

Stanton hopes to build on those efforts as head of the nonprofit agency, which has a budget through fiscal 2003 of $2.9 million. To start, he is working with community groups and city agencies to increase homeownership in the 72-square-block neighborhood, curb drugs, help high school dropouts obtain GEDs and build a park with baseball and football fields.

Since taking over the organization in December, Stanton has helped strengthen a partnership among Sandtown's major groups, including Sandtown-Winchester Community Development Corp. and Habitat for Humanity, said Emmanuel Price, executive director of Community Building in Partnership.

The two worked together at the partnership before Stanton became deputy housing commissioner in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., in 1998.

Tina Thompson, chairwoman of the Neighborhood Development Center board of directors, said, "He was the board's choice because he knows what he's doing. He's from Baltimore, and he worked at the housing authority for years. That's why we wanted him back."


Stanton said that before he came back, the coalition's partners "were bumping heads, but now things are more defined, and we go with a clearly stated mission of our joint land-use plan."

The plan, developed over three years, was introduced to residents last spring. It calls for renovating more than 600 houses over the next three years, grooming vacant lots and helping homeowners secure renovation funds.

In January, the collaborative created Youth Build Construction Co., a for-profit segment of the nonprofit Youth Build Training Program, which lets high-school dropouts ages 16 to 24 study for GEDs while learning the construction trade. Through the construction company, they will renovate additional houses, with profits going to Youth Build Construction, Stanton said.

Stanton received a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Washington Bible School in 1987. He thinks nothing of delivering 6 a.m. sermons in Washington before sitting down at his desk on Gilmor Street in Sandtown. He's so serious about improving his old stomping grounds that he keeps his cell phone on while he sleeps.

"I want people to have total access," Stanton said. "That's the only way stuff like this happens."