Baltimore’s ambitious $889 million plan to transform a swath of East Baltimore got a boost Thursday when the city was awarded a $30 million federal grant for redevelopment that includes tearing down Perkins Homes public housing and moving residents to new affordable housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant is one of five being awarded to cities as part of the agency’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.
Baltimore’s grant will support the city’s PSO Transformation Plan, which seeks to revitalize the 75-year-old Perkins Homes, the site of the former Somerset public housing development and Old Town.
The plan would gradually move residents out of Perkins’ 629 units, raze the public housing buildings and move them back into affordable housing in a larger, mixed-income community that will have 1,345 housing units within a 244-acre “transformation zone.”
During a press conference Thursday morning at Perkins Homes on Gough Street, Mayor Catherine Pugh said the grant will help improve Perkins residents’ lives by guaranteeing affordable new housing in “neighborhoods that have gone neglected for decades.”.
“Every single resident within the footprint of this development, the Perkins Homes development, will have an opportunity,” Pugh said. “We will improve living conditions for you folks. You come first. … The Perkins, Somerset Old Town transformation plan is about to become a reality.”
The city is working with a development team to create the new mixed-income community stretching from Harbor East and Fells Point to near Johns Hopkins Hospital. The project includes a new school, parks and services to help families and job-seekers, and officials envision new stores and businesses at the site of the mostly vacant Old Town Mall.
Denise Street, who raised a daughter and six grandchildren in Perkins Homes, where she has lived nearly five decades, said she feels confident residents will have opportunities to move into new homes in the neighborhood.
“This is amazing,” Street said of the plans talked about Thursday. “I hope to see new homes, a brand new community, places for our kids to play, a healthy environment. I just want to see the best for all of us in this community and the ones moving into the community.”
The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative seeks to support struggling neighborhoods that have public housing by working with local leaders. Besides Baltimore, the $144 million HUD handed out Thursday went to Flint, Mich.; Phoenix, Ariz..; Shreveport, La.; and Tulsa, Okla.
Pugh is seeking a $102 million city subsidy for the project through a tax increment finance zone in which increased future tax revenue would go to pay bonds sold to pay for roads, the new school and two parks in the area.
The city tapped Beatty Development Group, the company behind the nearby Harbor Point redevelopment, to lead the effort. Beatty organized a group called Perkins Point Partners with Mission First Housing Development, a nonprofit affordable housing developer; the Henson Development Co.; and Bank of America.
Joe DeFelice, the HUD Mid-Atlantic regional administrator, announced the award Thursday with Pugh. He said Choice Neighborhood grants are used to replace distressed properties with mixed-income housing, connect families with employment, health and education services and help spur commercial activity.
“Ultimately, the transformation plan envisions that the revitalization of Perkins Homes will serve as a catalyst to transform the entire neighborhood and intentionally connect it to the economically booming adjacent neighborhoods that anchor it,” DeFelice said.
The plan will attract investment to three neighborhoods with nearly 6,000 residents in more than 2,100 households and make it a community of choice, “a new model for a 21st Century urban neighborhood,” said Janet Abrahams, executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.
Maryland’s two Democratic senators also praised the grant award Thursday.
“The revitalization of East Baltimore holds tremendous potential for the growth and economic development of the city,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. He said the money is vital for “improving public housing, eliminating vacant properties, and supporting local schools and public services.”
Sen. Ben Cardin said the grant “will expand the federal-local partnership to enhance development in East Baltimore.”