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Hopkins pledges $10M to surrounding communities

Johns Hopkins University has pledged $10 million over five years for the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, a collaborative effort to address key issues facing 10 North Baltimore communities surrounding the Homewood campus, officials announced Thursday.

Although the initiative itself isn’t new — Hopkins convened a committee in 2010 to prioritize solutions — university President Ronald J. Daniels announced the financial commitment Thursday morning, joined by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other city and community officials.

“It had become exceedingly clear that the interests of our neighbors — safe streets, the elimination of blighted properties, development of the local workforce — are also the interests of our university,” Daniels said. “After all, the future of Johns Hopkins is inextricably tied to that of its community.”

The university’s move will help portray Baltimore as a viable city for new business ventures with thriving residential and commercial landscapes, said Mark Sissman, president of Healthy Neighborhoods Inc., which works to strengthen Baltimore’s housing environment.

“Hopkins is moving from its campus into the neighborhoods in a really substantive way,” Sissman said. “If I am a small business owner, I’m going to think more positively about investing in my money or opening in these neighborhoods because I know Hopkins is involved.”

The money hasn’t been allocated to specific programs yet, but spending will be guided by a series of recommendations established last year by JHU’s External Affairs and Community Engagement Committee.

Broadly speaking, Homewood Community Partners Initiative’s main objectives are: enhancing the safety and cleanliness of each neighborhood; creating more housing and eliminating blighted areas; improving public education; boosting commercial and retail development; and emphasizing local hiring, purchasing and work-force development.

Those goals must be tackled simultaneously, officials said.

“I don’t think we can accomplish one without achieving lasting improvements in the other areas,” said Andy Frank, a former deputy mayor and Daniels’ economic development adviser.

One of the most critical objectives, officials said, is growing the population of the area, which encompasses Charles Village, Remington, Wyman Park, Barclay, Charles North, Greenmount West (including the Waverly Main Street district), Old Goucher, Abell, Harwood and Oakenshawe.

The committee recommended adding 3,000 households to the area over 10 years. To do that successfully, it’s necessary to enhance the other aspects of urban living that would attract more residents, such as retail, entertainment and cultural offerings, Frank said.

To enhance retail districts, the plan calls for the creation of a fund that would provide gap financing to real estate developers working on large, high-impact projects, while another recommendation focuses on raising money for smaller-scale capital improvements.

Strengthening public schools is perhaps the most effective way to transform a community, Frank said, adding work has already begun in that arena.

Officials said they’d like to augment Hopkins’ existing partnerships with Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and The Barclay School, and expand the university’s “Live Near Your Work” program, which provides financial incentives to Hopkins employees — at the university and in the hospital system — who purchase a home located in designated areas, including around Homewood.

“That goes along with improving schools, because those employees will want to be able to raise their kids here,” Frank said. “… And then working on a greater diversity of retail is important for people’s ability to stay and shop in the neighborhood where they live.”

Those elements are “mutually reinforcing spheres of activity,” said Joseph McNeely, executive director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, an organization focused on developing areas around North Avenue. “You’ve got to work all of them at the same time.”

If all recommendations were implemented, however, they’d carry a price tag of about $60 million, said McNeely, whom Hopkins hired to lead the committee.

But not to worry, he said.

Hopkins put down the first $10 million with the idea of triggering additional investment from other sources — foundations, private companies, financial institutions and city and state government agencies.

Officials have already secured funds from several sources and sparked the interest of many others, Frank and McNeely said. And although continued support isn’t guaranteed, they said they’re confident others will jump on board now that the university has made the first move.

“Often, we find that when you’re looking to leverage other dollars, the most difficult thing is getting the first dollars in,” Frank said. “So Hopkins is saying, ‘We’ll be first in.’”

In addition, McNeely said, JHU’s investment has another characteristic that makes it “a very powerful” tool for eliciting more funding — its flexibility.

“It’s not carved up and locked into particular things,” he said, meaning future funds could be directed to any one of Homewood Community Partners Initiative’s programs.

“What I find is that people like to know they’re part of a comprehensive plan. They’re not necessarily funding the comprehensiveness, but it’s a powerful argument that the particular thing they’re funding is connected to a larger initiative that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

McNeely also said he believes the Hopkins name has a great deal of influence, which can sway potential funders who might feel more inclined to get behind a university-sponsored program. Sissman said he also felt confident Hopkins’ clout would result in more investment.

“Lenders and investors look for big, stable partners,” he said. “Hopkins’ commitment is really, really important. It makes a statement that these neighborhoods are getting the benefit of a very significant partner. So certainly, capital will follow that — assuming [we as community organizations] provide opportunities that make sense.”

As efforts continue, the university plans to prioritize Baltimore-based businesses for contracts and to hire more local residents, Daniels said.

The plan also calls for collaboration among existing “anchor institutions,” such as Hopkins and other deeply-rooted educational, medical or cultural cornerstones.

Rawlings-Blake said collaboration is crucial in maintaining the momentum several communities have begun, especially in improving residential areas.

“[The neighborhoods’] determination to work together and with Johns Hopkins to realize that potential is inspiring,” she said. “Efforts like this will get us a long way toward my administration’s goal of attracting 10,000 new households to Baltimore in 10 years.”

One comment

  1. Gregory T. Barnes

    Well done, Hopkins!