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$16M project reveals complexity of building affordable housing

Regina and Keith Hammond after the groundbreaking for an affordable housing development in the Johnston Square neighborhood of east Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Adam Bednar)

Regina and Keith Hammond after the groundbreaking for an affordable housing development in the Johnston Square neighborhood of east Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Adam Bednar)

Regina Hammond began organizing ReBUILD Johnston Square roughly six years ago to tackle a host of problems plaguing the east Baltimore neighborhood.

Since the group’s inception, Hammond and her neighbors, along with the activist group BUILD Baltimore, have worked to lure affordable housing development to the 700 block of East Chase Street. On Tuesday, Hammond, activists and political leaders gathered in the late summer heat to ceremonially break ground on the $16 million Greenmount and Chase affordable rental project.

“(It brings) housing — decent, affordable, nice houses. Because a lot of the (existing) houses are older, falling down and not being taken care of properly. So these will be nice, properly managed properties that people can come to this area (and rent) at affordable prices,” said Hammond, who has lived in the community for 30 years.

“We’re right next door to Mount Vernon, where you’re going to pay premium rates,” Hammond continued, saying, “You can come across (Interstate) 83 and live in Johnston Square at a real reasonable rate.”

The genesis of the 60-unit Greenmount and Chase project, developed by ReBUILD Metro and managed by Ingerman, highlights the complexities of cobbling together the financial pieces to build affordable housing.

Greenmount and Chase leverages 4% Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which are sold to private entities to offset taxes, to finance the construction. Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development provided the tax-exempt debt, which was sold by the Richman Group.

The Greemount and Chase project also benefits from state Project C.O.R.E. funds and money from Rental Housing Works. Contributions by the nonprofit Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation also were included in the mix, while Citibank and Freddie Mac provided tax-exempt financing.

At Greenmount and Chase, 28 rental units will be reserved for residents with Project Based Vouchers. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development plans to provide nine voucher apartments. The remaining 19 voucher units will be provided by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

Greenmount and Chase will consist of 24 one-bedroom, 27 two-bedroom and nine three-bedroom rental units. Planned amenities include a community lounge, a game room and a fitness room.

While piecing together the capital to build affordable housing is complicated, demand for the properties continues to surge.

Roughly 70,000 lower-income renter households in the region need affordable units, according to Baltimore Metropolitan Council research released in late 2014.

Jurisdictions such as Baltimore, as well as Howard and Anne Arundel counties, have enacted recent measures to provide affordable units. But activists say that so far those efforts have yet to match the need for affordable housing.

Baltimore Housing and Community Development Commissioner Michael Braverman called securing capital “essential” but said that’s only part of the solution to making projects like Greenmount and Chase a reality.

“We all have a sense of urgency that we can do better and more,” Braverman said.

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