Feds give Baltimore $30 million to help demolish Perkins Homes, redevelop surrounding area

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

The feds have awarded $30 million to Baltimore City to kick off a rebuild of the 75-year-old Perkins Homes, nearby Oldtown and the former Somerset Homes.

By razing 629 units spread across the Perkins Homes’ 48-building community in stages, the city and developers are aiming to construct a larger, 1,345-unit community on 244 acres that the mayor’s office is calling a “transformation zone.” Demolition is slated to begin within a couple years.

Led by Harbor Point developer Beatty Development, the effort is expected to approach $1 billion in costs. The mayor’s office is proposing a tax-increment financing plan to put $102 million—down from earlier estimates of at least $250 million—in public funds to help pay for the project.

The combined Perkins Homes, Somerset Homes and Oldtown area at present holds 5,939 residents in 2,122 households, said Janet Abrahams, executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, at a press conference today outside the Perkins Homes rental office.

Abrahams likened the section of town both a “hole in a doughnut” and a “hole in a blanket” at present, with the majority of the doughnut or blanket represented by already-developed surrounding territory. (The area is bordered by Harbor East and Johns Hopkins Hospital.) “Over time you wear and tear and have a hole, and you know that you need to knit that blanket back together so that you can create one.”

Abrahams was among city officials, developers and residents gathered Thursday to celebrate the award of the federal funds, one of five Choice Neighborhoods grants recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The agency presented the money with an oversized $30 million check.

City, state and federal officials and others hold the oversized $30 million check. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Officials said the money will help kick off a slew of projects beyond new housing, including construction of a new City Springs Elementary/Middle School, parks and new infrastructure for commercial development to that area of East Baltimore.

“Our community is a community of people who care about this city, who want an opportunity to live in quality housing, to be able to afford to live in quality housing,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said. “That’s what this project here represents today.”

Pugh said the federal grant for demolition will “attract almost $800 million in investment in this area because of this coordination,” and predicted other future public-private collaborations will help make Baltimore “one of the safest cities in America.”

“The expectations are high,” she added, prodding developers.

In addition to Beatty Development, the team of builders on the project includes St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar, Washington D.C.-based nonprofit firm Mission First and local firm Henson Development Company, per the city’s TIF application. They’ll be known collectively as PSO Housing Company. (PSO stands for Perkins, Somerset and Oldtown.)

Councilman Robert Stokes, who represents the area, said the Perkins Homes and Old Town communities have been “overlooked in the past” and are “desperately in need of attention.”

While celebrating the grant for the demolition, he also emphasized the people living there. “As we continue to build buildings, we’d better keep in mind that we’d better continue to build people’s lives, because that’s what’s gonna make the difference in this whole project.”

Joe DeFelice, HUD’s regional administrator the Mid-Atlantic, offered an assurance to residents of the Perkins Homes.

“To those families and neighborhoods that have rode out the hard times: We’re going to make sure that you’re not displaced by the good times that are sure to come from the investment and the grants.”

After the presser, Baltimore Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman explained the city plans to demolish buildings and relocate their dwellers in stages, rather than all at once. The process will take several years, he said.

“Unlike what you might have seen in Hope VI, where everyone was relocated when the high rises came down, that will not happen here,” he said.

Each unit will be replaced with one of the same size—albeit with nicer digs–Braverman said. “Every single unit that you see here—if you walk in and you see three bedrooms, one bath—every single unit down to the bedrooms will be replaced.”

A diagram of new planned housing around the Perkins Homes, Somerset Homes and Oldtown area.

While officials and media toured the public housing complex afterward, some Perkins Homes residents hung outside and talked about the redevelopment plan. Standing across the street from the rental office, Walter Page said he expects the city will hold up to its promise to re-house anyone currently living there, and that they’ll come back to a better Perkins Homes.

Braverman had noted that, in a survey of residents in the complex, 80 percent said they want to ultimately remain there.

But Page likely won’t be among them.

“Once I move, I probably won’t come back,” he said. “I’m just trying to get out the city, tired of city life.”

Robin Jones, a complex resident of 10 years, said she expects rental costs will rise in the new buildings, but welcomed the change, noting the complex’s well-documented problems with crime and vermin.

“I would love for them to gut the buildings out, start ’em all over again, and just put people here that’s gonna do something,” she said.

Ethan McLeod
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