A group of residents who live just outside the footprint of the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Inc. project say their home values have plunged as uncertainty over the future of the low-income community and widespread blight have taken hold of their neighborhood.
Residents who live on streets such as Chase, Chester, and Biddle, and North Patterson Park Avenue, attended a meeting at EBDI’s offices Monday to protest declining home values, a problem they share with many other homeowners who have lost value on assessments because of the recession.
“At the end of the day, what we see are abandoned houses,” said Wyndella McCray, who has owned a rowhouse in the 2200 block of East Chase Street since 1974. “If you look at Gay Street, all you see are abandoned houses leading to this bright future here.”
The housing clash highlights a focus of a new grassroots residents’ organization near the $1.8 billion EBDI redevelopment.
The Truth and Reconciliation Council was formed this summer to advocate for some of the remaining Middle East residents. Council officials said Monday that they planned to take their complaints to City Hall and are demanding answers within 30 days.
“The gloves are off,” said Nia Redmond, a resident who helped to form the council and also sits on the EBDI board. “We are calling on every president of every community association beyond this EBDI mess to assist us. Now, it’s a new ball game.”
Over the past decade, EBDI has demolished 669 houses and other buildings, and another 700 buildings stand vacated, ready for demolition. A majority of residents from those households moved away from the community with relocation packages.
But just outside the EBDI area, blighted and crumbling communities remain untouched.
Housing values in what was once a stable, working- and middle-class neighborhood have plunged while the spotlight is trained on the EBDI redevelopment less than a mile away, the residents say.
McCray’s house was valued at $12,000, she said, according to a property tax bill from the city, based on a 2011 assessment by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.
Nearby, another neighbor, Bernice Dawson, owns a tidy powder-blue rowhouse with awnings and a hand-painted window box.
It is flanked by two vacant, boarded-up houses, both valued at $3,000, state records show, whose owners live in San Diego and Bluffdale, Utah.
Dawson, 71, said she bought her home 23 years ago through a local homeownership program for $9,430. After renovations, the home’s value jumped to $35,000 in the late 1980s, she said.
Today, her assessment stands at $12,000.
Paul T. Graziano, the city’s housing commissioner, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, his spokesperson, Cheron Porter, said.
Glen Ross, an aide to City Council member Warren Branch, whose district includes the blighted areas on the cusp of the EBDI project, said the many vacancies in the community have rendered the area vulnerable.
He said some call it “Zombieland” because most streets have vacant houses and the area often looks deserted.
“You may have an average of 28 to 43 houses on a street block and anywhere from two to eight families occupying a small number of houses,” Ross said. “There are a lot of vacancies. There has never been a neighborhood association in that area, so they haven’t had a voice.”
Once envisioned as a substantial new mixed-income community based around a world-class life sciences park linked to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the EBDI project has stalled and is now being re-planned. EBDI officials have spent $564 million so far, $212.6 million of it in public funds.
Originally, EBDI pledged to replace the rowhouses it demolished with at least 599 houses by now. But so far, only 220 units have been built, most of them rental apartments for senior citizens and other tenants.
Five condominiums, originally priced at more than $200,000, were built near Eager Street and Broadway; only two units have sold since the Townes at Eager opened nearly three years ago.
EBDI and Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the developer of the site, are working from a newly proposed master plan that calls for up to 250 new housing units at the EBDI site by late 2013, when a new public school is scheduled to open.
To some living outside the area, such a community turnaround seems unattainable in a city where the 2010 Census found there were 46,782 vacancies.
“I’ve been here 49 years and raised my son in this house,” said Lillian Jackson, 82, who lives in the 2200 block of East Chase Street, about three blocks from the EBDI border.
Jackson, a retired employee of the housekeeping department at St. Agnes Hospital, said she paid $8,000 for the three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse. It was assessed at $12,000 this summer.
“Now, all the value is gone,” she said, shaking her head. “I live on Social Security. This house is my life’s savings.”