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The other side of the Belair-Edison struggle

The Baltimore Sun

A community leader and a church pastor in a tiny section of Northeast Baltimore's Belair-Edison known as the "Four by Four" are convinced they know who is responsible for crime on their streets.

John T. Shannon Jr. wants to make it clear: The East Baltimore residents displaced by the sweeping redevelopment around Johns Hopkins Hospital are, by and large, good, hardworking people and fine neighbors.

He's the president of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit organization in charge of transforming acre upon acre of crumbling rowhouses north of Hopkins into a biotech park, and he took exception to my recent column about complaints from residents of Belair-Edison about the number of east-siders who moved there.

The redevelopment at Hopkins will include the construction of new residences, but 400 houses have been demolished and 396 families have been moved.

Residents received money for their homes - an average of $160,000 each, even though many of the old rowhouses were worth no more than $30,000 - and the occupants could go anywhere they wanted, in Baltimore or beyond.

Many chose Northeast Baltimore because it was close to their families, churches, doctors and stores. It was close to home.

People don't want poor people moving next door. And that's what this argument comes down to. Shannon told me something obvious, but it's too often overlooked: "There are a lot of fine, decent, hardworking people who have spent their lives in the Middle East community. They have been painted with a very broad brush related to their economic situation and circumstances in their community."

Meaning not everyone from East Baltimore is unfit to inhabit someplace else, and not everyone is associated with crime. Some might not only be good neighbors; they might even improve the community.

Just how many people relocated from East Baltimore to Belair-Edison?

The community is large, more than 13,000 people in 7,500 homes. In the now-completed first phase of the redevelopment project, 35 families moved into Belair-Edison, about 9 percent of the total number relocated. Seven of those families moved to the "Four by Four," a 16-square-block area at the southern tip of Belair-Edison.

The number does seem too low to have any significant consequences. But it is among the most popular locations for the people who moved. Cedonia got 36 families; Belair-Edison 35; Madison-East End 23; and Patterson Park and Hamilton, 21 each. Three of the top five communities are in Northeast Baltimore. That's 92 of the 396 families, or 23 percent. In the coming second phase, eight of 99 families are moving into Belair-Edison.

Seems the mayor was right about an unusually high concentration in one place. But I think Shannon is also right by raising an important question: Does it really matter? Compared with the overall population of the area, another 100 families doesn't seem that much of a burden. At the same time, one bad neighbor can bring down an entire neighborhood.

There are no statistics or studies on whether the newcomers are helping or hurting these communities. But the community leaders in the "Four by Four" know the residents by their first names and say they know troublesome newcomers when they see them.

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