City plans to demolish Perkins Homes, neighbors just finding out (UPDATED)

UPDATE: City Paper has heard from several readers concerned about such things as whether a "one-for-one replacement policy" is built into the Perkins plan; when their grandmother might be forced to move; and the nature of the Open Society Institute's involvement—as the boss of the Baltimore OSI office emailed yesterday to say that her organization had "no engagement" with Baltimore Housing on the Perkins plan. To clarify: We don't know if the plan will include a one-for-one replacement of the units, though we have heard from people at the meeting that the plan is to increase density there. The process appears to be in its early stages and, again, the money to do all this is not in place. It's clearly going to be years before anything gets knocked down (and anyone's grandma is forced out), if ever. Here is what Diana Morris, director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, wrote in an email last night regarding OSI's role:

"I think I have identified the source of the confusion. Our Juvenile and Criminal Justice Director Tara Huffman was invited to participate in some public safety planning associated with the housing project. We are not contributing any funding to the project; and, since we have no housing experience or program, we are not getting at all involved in the housing matters. Rather, Tara has simply agreed to provide advice regarding best practices to ensure that the group does not adopt any policies that would increase arrests or pose barriers to housing for people with criminal records.  

"Thus, our participation is quite limited, focused on an area where we have expertise, and meant to help ensure that policies and practices adopted in the name of public safety do not harm residents. Reporting that we are 'participating' in the project is misleading; I have already received emails from colleagues asking why we would be supporting a project that could result in fewer affordable housing units. Our focus is exclusively on preventing any widening of the criminal justice net. If you could clarify this in a future article, I would be appreciative."

To clarify the clarification: We have reported OSI's participation using exactly the word used in Baltimore Housing's request for funding in the April 15 Board of Estimates Agenda, which numbered OSI among "key partners." The Open Society Institute also appears on the project's steering committee and membership on the Neighborhood Task Force, according to the handout we reviewed. Presumably, Baltimore Housing will clarify all its partners' roles in the project in due time.

 

 

Baltimore Housing is planning to demolish and redevelop the Perkins Homes, the city's oldest public housing project, into a mixed-income project that will take a decade to complete and may cost $300 million. 

The department has already chosen a developer—a company associated with Bethesda-based Clark Construction, one of the country's largest builders with more than 4,000 employees. In April, Baltimore Housing quietly won a $230,000 budget appropriation to pay about half the cost of a consultant to help the city apply for a $30 million grant to kick-start the project.

And last week the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) sent its emissary to the neighborhood associations surrounding the 17-acre complex, bounded by South Bethel, Bank, South Eden, and East Pratt streets, that houses about 600 families in 48 buildings.

"They did it all in secret," says Mark Adams, who lives a few blocks from Perkins Homes and attended a meeting of the Fells Point Task Force where the plan was discussed. "They hired a developer, architect, and 'consultant' before they bothered to notify the adjoining communities."

He is not thrilled. 

An email sent to HABC's spokesperson last week was unanswered. 

Rumors about plans for Perkins Homes have swirled around Baltimore development circles for years. The holdup has always been money, and this obstacle is apparently not yet vanquished.

According to a PowerPoint-style slide show about the project, Perkins is "A Choice Neighborhood." That refers to a federal housing program called "Choice Neighborhoods," which is a successor to HOPE VI, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's infamous program of the 1990s that resulted in thousands of low-income housing units being demolished without replacement. The new program offers a competitive grant to seed the redevelopment of aging public housing developments. According to the background/explanation included in the April 15 Baltimore Board of Estimates (BOE) agenda, "The Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant" is "highly competitive," "with approximately 60-70 applicants each year for three grants."

The agenda explanation says that Perkins residents voted to apply for the grant in March 2014. HABC has also partnered with Johns Hopkins, Living Classrooms, the Open Society Institute, and others to push the plan forward. The BOE that morning approved $230,633 to fund 49 percent of the cost of a consultant, EJP Consulting Group LLC, to work up the grant application.

A look at the HUD program description indicates that, to get the grant, municipalities are in a competition to prove themselves in the most dire straits. The agency links to a mapping tool that scores areas based on poverty and other criteria. High poverty and crime rates make the grant application look better, and so the "Target Neighborhood," depicted in the PowerPoint slides, appears to be drawn to exclude the comparatively well-off areas of Upper Fells Point and Little Italy. The boundaries do not follow neighborhood lines or the census tracts. 

According to the slides, the planning process will include an assessment of existing conditions, "resident engagement and capacity building activities," identification of neighborhood needs, and "consensus on neighborhood vision and priority for each plan component."

Neighbors outside the boundary have been, until recently, left in the dark, Adams says. "A steering committee has been working on the project," he says in an email to City Paper. "Its membership includes Del. Brooke Lierman, who didn't tell us anything about this project either. The steering committee includes George Soros' Open Society Institute and the Living Classrooms Foundation. None of the community groups from Little Italy, Fells Pt. or Upper Fells Pt. are on the steering committee. Their printed materials make reference to the Washington Hill Community Org., which is inactive. Councilman Carl Stokes also is on the steering committee."

Adams says he's taking a delegation of neighborhood people, including Perkins residents, to HABC next week.

"I just want them to do this right," he says.


Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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