Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Public Housing: Who Says it has to look the part?

This has been a question that has been asked and was answered correctly many times over in recent years resulting in several new "Hope VI" developments across the city.
After World War II Baltimore and just about every large city across the country was given a problem. How to house the poor, eliminate blight, and create new right of ways for interstate highways. The answer to all three questions was all to plain and simple; Public Housing High rises. Public housing high rises would be built where blighted housing once stood, house the poor, and would create space for new interstates where other blighted and also non blighted housing stood (but that's not what highway planners would have you believe.) Almost as soon as the high rises went up they turned into the slums they were supposed to eliminate. The buildings and the neighborhoods that surrounded them were held hostage by crime, drugs, sanitation issues. The real kicker was that in Baltimore that most of the interstates were either canceled or a much lesser version of what they were planned to be.
In the 1990s it became well known that the high rises had to come down and income levels should be more evenly dispersed. The high rise developments to come down in Baltimore would be Murphy Homes (now Heritage Crossing), Lafayette Courts (now Pleasant View Gardens), Flag House Courts (now Albemarle Square), Freedom, Claremont (now Orchard Ridge), Lexington Terrace (now Townes at the Terraces) and Broadway Homes (now Broadway Overlook but on a different parcel of land.) One thing about these new developments is that they're lower density consisting primarily of town homes and most importantly they're a mixture of income levels. The developments contain units designated for public housing, market rate rental, subsidized home ownership, and market rate home ownership. Units don't look different from one another either and they blend in better to the existing neighborhoods than their former high rises.
As of right now the new developments have been a huge success. However their long term future is still any one's guess. The rental units have maintained and upgraded so the values privately owned homes remain competitive and residents of all income levels have to be watchful so that the crime, drugs, and sanitation issues don't come back again.
These aren't the only public housing developments in the city that have had problems. There are many other developments throughout that need this kind of intervention to aide in the comeback of their larger neighborhoods. They include McCollough Homes, Westport Homes and Extension, Cherry Hill Homes, O'Donnell Heights, Somerset Homes, Monument Homes, Douglass Homes, and Bel Park Towers.
Hope VI proves once and for all that Public Housing does not have to look the part nor should it.
*Update despite pooring millions of dollars into Hope VI crime has reared its ugly head in these new communities. There have been fatal shootings in Heritage Crossing and Pleasent View Gradens.


Anonymous said...

I live in Albemarle Square and have since early 2006.

This neighborhood has been beautifully transformed from a run-down, dangerous slum into a lovely, quiet place to live. I enjoy it here, and my neighbors are hard-working, pleasant people. You wouldn't know who once lived in the old project buildings unless you asked.

I cannot speak for other former sites (Murphy, etc.), but the former Flag House Courts, in my view, has been a tremendous success.

Spence Lean said...

What would you say the demographics of Albemarle Square are? Is it a mix of black and white or is it all one or the other?

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