City housing officials reopened a low-income apartment complex in West Baltimore Tuesday after $27 million in renovations — accomplished through a program that sold 40 percent of the city's public housing to private developers to generate money for improvements.
The Allendale, a 164-unit high-rise at 3600 W. Franklin St., is the first of 23 complexes in Baltimore to be renovated and fully occupied using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
When the program was announced three years ago, residents and public-housing advocates were fearful that it would result in fewer subsidized units by putting them in the hands of profit-driven developers. But at the reopening, those gathered praised it as a successful public-private partnership that will enhance the quality of life for hundreds of low-income tenants.
"We were so apprehensive in the beginning," said Wallace Craig, a member of the housing department's Resident Advisory Board who lives in Lakeview Towers, another complex being renovated.
"The end results have changed our minds. It's like a new beginning."
Doretha Hunter, a seven-year resident of The Allendale, said she no longer has to worry about coming home to standing water and soggy floors from leaky walls and windows when it rains. She also said she loves the new appliances in her fifth-floor apartment, especially the full-size stove that replaced a compact one.
"It's almost as if we're coming home to a brand-new home," Hunter said. "It's such a delight because there had been no renovations for over 30 years."
Under the HUD program, city housing officials said they have raised about $300 million to renovate 4,300 of the 11,000 units in Baltimore, allowing the properties to operate for decades more. Renovations will be complete on Hollins House in the Poppleton neighborhood later this month, followed by Primrose Place near Saint Agnes Hospital and Bernard E. Mason near Leakin Park.
The program allows developers to receive city and federal tax breaks in exchange for buying the sites. The developers signed agreements pledging to keep the apartments priced for low-income residents.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has estimated that public housing in Baltimore had a backlog of $800 million in needed maintenance and repairs amid declining financial support from Washington.
"What we're looking at is tens of millions of dollars invested in what was a very difficult environment for the Housing Authority to keep the lights on," said Baltimore's acting housing commissioner, Michael Braverman. "It's an unfortunate situation in public housing in the city and in the country, and through the efforts of our partnership ... look at what we've been able to do."
At The Allendale, built in 1985, the major utility systems were upgraded and a coating was applied to the exterior to prevent water infiltration. New energy-efficient appliances, kitchen cabinets, and doors and windows were added, as well as upgraded bathrooms and fresh paint. Remodeled common areas include a game room and library, a computer room and a fitness room.
City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett of West Baltimore said the renovation of The Allendale made the building's interior unrecognizable.
"This is what affordable housing should look like," Burnett said. "It's a place you can be proud of, a place that you can bring your friends and family over to visit and have pride and dignity, especially for our seniors and folks living with disabilities. This is exactly what we deserve all over the city."
The property remained open during the renovation, with 20 percent of the apartments held vacant so the residents could be relocated within the building while their units were being restored. All units are now leased.
The renovation was lead by Enterprise Homes Inc., a Baltimore-based affordable-housing developer, and Baltimore Affordable Housing Development Inc., an affiliate of the Housing Authority. Financing came from the state housing department, AGM Financial Services, Inc., Wells Fargo, the Housing Authority and Enterprise Community Investment, according to officials.
Carol Bryant Payne, a HUD field office director, said such collaborations are necessary to preserve affordable housing.
"We have a backlog of many projects across the country that require renovation and redevelopment," Payne said. "Without the partnerships of all of us together, these projects cannot happen. HUD does not operate as a single entity."
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said access to affordable housing is key to the city's future. He said he first became a homeowner at age 19 under a program backed by urban planner James Rouse, who founded Enterprise.
Young said he was skeptical of the HUD program when he first learned about it, but praised the renovation Tuesday.
"The work here was done with class and with taste," Young said. "We'll be watching the rest [of the renovations] to make sure they'll be doing what you did here."