In 2005 Daniel Henson, president of Baltimore-based The Henson Development Co. Inc., had a vision for a city-owned parking lot and collapsing Victorian-era police station near the intersection of South Broadway and Bank Street in Fells Point.
At the time developers thought the city needed luxury condominiums, so Henson — a former Baltimore city housing commissioner — came up with a plan to build luxury condos on the site. But the market went bad shortly after he took over the property and sent him back to the drawing board.
“By the time we got busy on this project there were hundreds of luxury condos sitting vacant,” Henson said.
On Monday, after years of refining the current design, Henson celebrated with his partner, Mission First Housing Group, the grand opening of Fells Point Station. The $12 million development features 47 units of one- and two- bedroom subsidized and market-rate apartments and 3,300 square feet of retail space.
The development included the adaptive reuse of a building that dates to the 1860s and was originally a police station. New construction includes a four-story addition with a brick façade that complements the existing structure.
About 70 percent of the units are considered affordable housing. Residents making as little as 40 percent of the area median income can rent a two-bedroom apartment with a den for $620 a month, while a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in the building rents for $1,550 a month. There are currently 21 rented units and Henson is searching for a tenant for the retail space.
The city awarded the project about $800,000 in HOME funds, and the development has also received a 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit allocation from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has always been a supporter but added that he’s much happier with how the project turned out compared to its initial concept.
“We have people who have jobs that are not making a lot of money, and they want to have a nice, decent, affordable unit they can live in with their kids and live the American Dream,” Young said
In recent months, city officials have acknowledged a growing need for affordable housing, which stands in stark contrast to the amount of market-rate development underway. The city has experienced an explosion in the development of market-rate apartments, especially downtown, where tax incentives have spurred the redevelopment of Class B office space into residential units. According to a report from the Downtown Partnership, there are more than 4,000 market-rate residential units in the pipeline to be delivered in that portion of the city by 2017.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration is now looking to try and stimulate similar market-rate development in other areas of the city. A bill creating a 10-year tax credit to develop market-rate apartments citywide was introduced in the Baltimore City Council last week at the administration’s behest.
The city has made attempts to develop more affordable housing, particularly through programs such as Vacants to Value and the Community Development Block Grant Homeownership Assistance Program. Baltimore’s housing authority is also participating in a pilot program that permits it to sell 37 percent of its public housing stock to private investors, which will allow for improvements and investments the authority can’t afford to make.
But officials have admitted that it has been a struggle to meet the demand for quality affordable housing in Baltimore. Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano said he believes developments like Fells Point Station will be key in addressing that gap. He called the development a model of how the city wants to address affordable housing because it caters to a variety of economic levels in an already thriving neighborhood.
“The ability to introduce affordability in a neighborhood like this, where you see a lot of market-rate housing, is very important to get that mix as part of our overall plan,” Graziano said.