Friday, September 28, 2012

Reservoir Hill: Lets See Some Population Growth

I have a great fondness for Reservoir Hill so it gives me great pleasure when new Residents email me and write in the comments field that they have purchased their dream home in Reservoir Hill and have restored it to glorious perfection and that they have best Neighbors one could ask for. On the other hand, Reservoir Hill continues to lose population, is plagued with boarded up buildings, has trash strewn about the streets and alleys, and vacant overgrown lots. It appears that the grassroots efforts to revitalize Reservoir Hill don't make for a net population gain and on some streets are just a drop in the bucket in rehabbing the gems that are Reservoir Hill's housing stock. Fear not, I have some ideas that should pump up the volume on reinvestment in Reservoir Hill and finally give it some net population growth.
First off, in my research of Reservoir Hill I learned that something I thought needed to be done is actually being done; demolishing the crime infested Madison Park North Apartments is a done deal. I was going to suggest that the aging complex nicknamed "Murder Mall" hit the wrecking ball because it creates a barrier between Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill. The draining out of this complex may be the reason as to why Reservoir Hill as a whole lost population. Given its close location to MICA it has been suggested that the vacant property be developed for use as Student Housing. MICA has not however given any interest in buying and developing the land. It is currently unclear what will go where Madison Park North is. Hopefully the synergy created by Station North on North Avenue across I-83 will make its way to the Bolton Hill Reservoir Hill area.
Next we go to the opposite end of Reservoir Hill to Druid Lake. This should be some of the sought after property in the City but it isn't and I can tell you why in three letters; HUD. Most of the undeveloped land HUD has a 99 year lease on which makes building upscale housing on it a no go (like the ill fated Vistas on the Lake.) They key to bringing in real population growth all around Reservoir Hill is large scale development and there's plenty of land with Druid Hill Park frontage that this can happen. What first has to happen though is HUD must give up its lease on that land which in its current only allows for Section 8 or public housing.
In its heyday, Reservoir Hill was home to lots of luxury Apartment and Condo buildings. Many of these buildings are still standing but are vacant or are otherwise in distressed condition. I think fully restoring these diamonds in the rough and re renting and sell them as the upscale gems they once were would help in bringing back the elegance and stateliness that Reservoir Hill has historically been known for. It appears that a lot of these smaller buildings were once used as group homes more recently but have been vacated and they are now boarded up and empty. Restoring these to their grandiose elegance will continue to attract more population to Reservoir Hill.
Last but not least we come to what dominates the landscape of Reservoir Hill; Row Homes. Row Homes are where the bulk of Reservoir Hill's new population comes from. There are a lot of row homes here that have been carefully and handsomely restored to their former grandeur. On the flip side there are plenty that are boarded up and have been for years. Row Homes in Reservoir Hill are very large and I think that's its hubris. The larger the home, the more expensive it is to restore it. I think that may have a lot to do with the fact that many of the Neighborhoods that have gentrified in Baltimore contain smaller "cookie cutter" row homes IE Fells Point, Canton, Patterson, Park, Federal Hill etc. Other Neighborhoods with larger row homes like Reservoir Hill haven't decayed like Reservoir Hill has IE Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Charles Village. In order to restore some of the homes in Reservoir Hill, it may take a construction budget anywhere from $100k upwards of a quarter million dollars. Keep in mind that's only the construction budget, that doesn't include actually purchasing the home which could be another $100k. 
I have suggested bringing back the $1 row house program many times over and I think Reservoir Hill is the perfect place to do so. Given how expensive it will be to restore its housing stock to its former grandeur, I think it best for new Home Owners to dedicate all of their money towards construction. Remember these are large homes with lots of interior and exterior details so that doesn't come cheap. That being said, in order to buy a Reservoir Hill row home for $1 the buyer must qualify for at least a $100k mortgage loan to ensure that the construction is done. In some of the more dilapidated homes that loan amount might be bumped up to $200k because they would require more work. 
Reservoir Hill has been waiting to come back big for years now and there are new home owners moving in but there are certain things that are keeping a mass population spike such as Madison Park North and an excess of vacant Apartment Homes as well as views that aren't taken full advantage of. Once these problems are eradicated, Reservoir Hill will truly experience population growth.