City picks developer team to rehab nearly 40 vacant homes in historic Upton

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Michael Braverman speaks at a press conference in Upton. Photo via office of Bernard C. “Jack” Young/Twitter.

In a step that city Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said amounts to “paying back a debt we owe Heritage Crossing,” the city has chosen a developer to rehab 38 rowhomes along two blocks near the Upton housing community.

A group of developers called Upton Renaissance LLC will lead the $9.7 million project, with around $8 million in private dollars and the rest coming from city and state funds. The plan is to demolish (where necessary) and rehabilitate 28 city-owned vacant properties in the 800 block of Harlem Avenue, as well as 10 others in the 800 block of Edmondson Avenue.

The rebuilt homes will sell for up to $250,000 apiece, part of a plan that Braverman and others said will boost homeownership in the underserved area and help build equity for city dwellers.

The city-state contribution will cut costs for buyers, with between $50,000 and $60,000 in public subsidies bringing mortgages below $200,000, Maryland Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth Holt said.

Upton Renaissance, based on South Street downtown according to state business records, consists of Tower Hill Harrison Development, Stanton View Development and Parris Development.

Ex Officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young highlighted that the development group is minority-owned, and presented them with a plaque commemorating their winning bid. The city put out its request for for proposals on the properties in July 2018.

“We look forward to working hard to really bring this vision to fruition, and we’re humbly grateful that you’ve given us the opportunity,” developer Dean Harrison said.

The city built the 260-unit Heritage Crossing project nearly two decades ago after demolishing the Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace high-rises. However, as Braverman noted, Baltimore’s government has since lagged in spurring revitalization of nearby blighted blocks as it initially promised.

Janet Allen, president of the Heritage Crossing Resident Association, said she moved there in 2002 with high hopes for the area, only to see major projects fail to materialize—particularly, the Red Line that Gov. Larry Hogan nixed, the litigation-stalled State Center redevelopment, the city’s failed Superblock plan (now being developed in smaller parcels) and multiple RFPs—in the 17 years since.

“But guess what? I still believe that this area is a great area to invest in, and to live in, and to work in, and to play in,” Allen said. “This day gives me hope and excitement that our dreams of building a stronger, healthier, sustainable community throughout West Baltimore will come into fruition.”

Wanda Best, an Upton resident of three decades and executive director of the Upton Planning Committee, said the 2018 RFP has succeeded where others failed in part because of city and state subsidies.

Of the developers, she said, “We believe in them. We know that in the very near future, we’ll have homeowners on these two blocks.”

Councilman Leon Pinkett, who represents West Baltimore’s 7th District (which doesn’t include Upton, but borders the 11th District that does include the neighborhood), argued this project will spur investment in the area without gentrifying it.

“We are bringing investment to the community without the displacement,” Pinkett said. “None of us who have labored in these communities for any amount of time would want our efforts to bear fruit that removes legacy residents.”

So how long until this all begins?

Tammy Hawley, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said in an email that with a developer now in place, the city must still negotiate land disposition and development agreements, which require spending board approval before work can begin.

“At a minimum, this negotiating and approval period will take approximately six months,” she said. “With everything going smoothly, we would be looking at stabilization [work] starting towards the end of this year/beginning of next year.”

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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