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Study: Downtown rentals key

Downtown Baltimore could successfully grow by nearly 8,000 new households every year for the next five years as a new generation of singles, newly married couples and empty nesters move into center city — many from outside of Baltimore, a study released by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore says.

The ‘Downtown Baltimore Outlook 2017’ concluded that about 60 percent of downtown Baltimore’s new housing units should be rental apartments, 19 percent for-sale condominiums and 21 percent for-sale townhomes.

The spike in both rental and for-sale housing in the downtown area is estimated to change the face of the city’s population as about 1,100 new units of housing are poised to be built each year for the next two to three years, and up to 1,227 new units for the following two years for a total of about 5,800 new units through 2017.

“It has been our fastest-growing market,” said City Councilman William H. Cole IV. “The numbers show that the core of Baltimore is very hot right now when it comes to apartments.”

The report, “Downtown Baltimore Outlook 2017,” was released Friday. Data was compiled by New Jersey-based Zimmerman/Volk Associates and funded through a grant by the Goldseker Foundation.

It follows up on an original study published by the Downtown Partnership in 2001 and updated in 2006, geared toward measuring growth of market rate housing in the city’s core area, calculated as a mile radius from the intersection of Light and Pratt streets near the Inner Harbor, including neighborhoods Locust Point, Riverside, Poppleton, Bolton Hill, Fells Point and Canton.

The report focuses on who the potential new Baltimore residents would be, where they currently live and how much they would be willing to pay in rent and market rate housing costs to live downtown.

It concluded that about 60 percent of new housing units should be rental apartments, 19 percent for-sale condominiums and 21 percent for-sale townhomes.

“The remarkable transformation of American households … over the past decade, combined with steadily increasing traffic congestion and rising gasoline prices, has resulted in significant changes in neighborhoods and housing preferences,” the report stated, adding that a shift toward transit-oriented development away from suburban lifestyles is underway.

It supports a stance advocated by the Downtown Partnership over the past five years that the current housing crisis and high foreclosure rates have moved the focus toward rental units for many, and that Baltimore’s stock of vacant buildings in its once-busy commercial hub downtown is prime space for conversion for such housing options.

The report, said Downtown Partnership President J. Kirby Fowler Jr., should serve to “push forward” some developers who have been mulling buying and converting some of those vacant spaces into residential units.

“The study confirms what we had believed,” Fowler said, “given that we have 100 percent [capacity] in most of our apartment buildings. We were confident there was insignificant housing supply … and that we can absorb 1,000 units per year for the next five years. It confirms we are heading down the right path.”

The city’s population declined by 4.6 percent from 651,150 in the 2000 U.S. Census to 621,000 in the 2010 Census report. A 2012 report by the national Neilson Co. showed that the number of households in the city also has declined, to 248,435.

The partnership’s data, also based on census tract figures, shows that the center city population reverses that trend. In January 2012, there were 42,011 residents living within the one-mile radius of Light and Pratt Streets — about 5,700 more residents than in 2000.

In addition, the partnership’s study shows that a large number of the new residents in center city are single or live in non-traditional family structures and earn well more than the city’s average of $37,200. One-third do not own a vehicle. In addition, about 72 percent of the households in that one-mile radius are renters.

The median rent in the center city area is $1,232 in 2012, the report said.

The findings support a pledge by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to grow the city by 10,000 new residents in 10 years. Rawlings-Blake has launched several efforts to do this, including a renewal of housing efforts, both in vacancy-strewn and blighted neighborhoods and with new construction.

Several proposed developments within the area include a total of thousands of new rental unit options: The redevelopment of the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre site downtown, the Superblock site on the West Side and Harbor Point on the waterfront.

Cole said the increase in residential growth over the next five or six years would help spur retail and other commercial growth.

“You’re looking at more of a 24-hour neighborhood downtown,” he said.