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Patricia Massey, housing specialist who helped transform Reservoir Hill and Canton, dies

Pat Massey was director of land development for Baltimore City's Department of Housing and Community Development. She's pictured later in her career in 2001 in front of the old Fuller Building on Wagner Avenue, which was being torn down to develop into a Canton town house. Chiaki Kawajiri/Baltimore Sun
Pat Massey was director of land development for Baltimore City's Department of Housing and Community Development. She's pictured later in her career in 2001 in front of the old Fuller Building on Wagner Avenue, which was being torn down to develop into a Canton town house. Chiaki Kawajiri/Baltimore Sun

Patricia Massey, a housing specialist who helped rebuild Canton and renovated Reservoir Hill apartment houses, died Feb. 25 at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 77 and lived in Canton.

Her husband, Joseph McNeely, said she died of a brain injury she suffered in a 2014 fall while working on a Southeast Baltimore project.

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Born in Elmont, New York, she was the daughter of George Massey, a Grumman machinist, and his wife, Almira Dragani, a school secretary. She was a graduate of Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park.

Her husband said she discovered an interest in politics while on a senior year field trip to Washington, D.C. She was then a student at the State University of New York at Brockport, where she received a bachelor’s degree.

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She immediately became a Capitol Hill staff member. Several years later, while working for Sen. Charles Goodell she developed an interest in urban planning and housing.

Co-developers, left to right, Patricia Massey, Jeremy Landsman and Jeffrey Landsman are pictured in 2006. They were turning the former Bell Foundry buildings, background, in the 1500 block of N. Calvert St. at Federal Street, into artists studios and gallery space. Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun
Co-developers, left to right, Patricia Massey, Jeremy Landsman and Jeffrey Landsman are pictured in 2006. They were turning the former Bell Foundry buildings, background, in the 1500 block of N. Calvert St. at Federal Street, into artists studios and gallery space. Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

Ms. Massey, who started as a Rockefeller Republican, was consulted on the New Communities program and lobbied for Republican women’s organizations for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

She also graduated from the George Washington University with a master’s degree in urban planning.

She came to Baltimore in 1977 and joined the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development and worked in commercial revitalization and was later director of land development. She also changed her political party affiliation to Democratic.

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“She was a terrific housing developer. I saw many rowhouse developments and her work was always fine. We learned at HCD and we learned from each other. I was proud of her. She was a success story,” said former Baltimore City Housing Commissioner M. Jay Brodie, who now mentors Morgan State University architecture students.

“She and several other young women in the Schaefer administration came to be known as Schaefer’s girls,” her husband, Joseph, said. “Pat and some of them formed a regular informal eating club for networking that continued for 50 years.”

He said she proposed that then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer create the Baltimore Housing Partnership to turn city vacant buildings into affordable housing, and she helped him do so. She worked with the private real estate community on the effort.

He said she and the city housing staff had tried numerous approaches to reviving the Baltimore “dollar house” urban homesteading program. It ultimately had no success in the mid-1980s.

“She concluded that active development by a strong nonprofit organization was the only way to convert the remaining vacants,” her husband said.

He also said she studied public-private housing partnerships in several cities before conceiving the Baltimore Housing Partnership. She led the partnership to produce 1,000 affordable homes for ownership and rental in 10 years, he said.

She left city employment and became a senior project manager for the Roisman Company of Philadelphia from 1994 to 1997. She directed large rehabilitation efforts and in Baltimore led the creation of Renaissance Plaza in Reservoir Hill.

She oversaw a major refurbishment of landmark apartment houses overlooking Druid Hill Lake and Druid Hill Park — the Emersonian, the Esplanade and the Temple Gardens.

In 1997 she founded Metroscape Development.

“The beginning was tough, doing individual rowhouse rehabilitation,” her husband said.

“She was tough and direct, and known for her combination of neighborhood sensitive-design, detailed preparation, community engagement, persistence and sense of humor,” he said.

She was profiled in a 2001 Baltimore Sun article about her Cambridge Walk development work in Canton.

“If Massey, with her soothing and engaging voice, wasn’t the developer of the project, she could easily act as the salesperson just by putting up a lemonade stand and handing out fliers,” the article said.

“Massey is going it alone — a woman working in a male-dominated field, doing the biggest project of her life. Her success or failure will be nothing but her own. ‘I’ve been doing it for 25 years, so I am serious about it. It’s my work,’ she said.”

She later built Roland Gate near Cold Spring Lane on the site of an old carpet warehouse. She also worked in Frankford, Hampden, Little Italy, Upper Fells Point , Highlandtown and Greektown.

“She had an imagination for overlooked sites. She saw the possibility of a location and a strong design sense,” her husband said.

An alto, she sang with the Handel choir, the Pride of Baltimore, a part of the Sweet Adelines and the choir of St Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, where she was a member.

Ms. Massey enjoyed sewing — she made her own wedding dress — and quilting. She had been a board member of the Creative Alliance and served on the Baltimore School for the Arts building.

“I learned that on our trips it was my job to find the fabric district,” he said. “Who else goes to Paris and on the first day heads immediately to the fabric district? Luckily it was at the foot of Montmartre.”

In addition to her husband of 35 years, the founding director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, survivors include her two daughters, Katie McNeely and Maria McNeely, both of Baltimore; a brother, George Massey of Yardley, Pennsylvania; a sister, Myra Graham of Holbrook, Long Island; and numerous nieces and nephews.

A celebration of life will be held when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

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