The role of the HCPI: Can University and community interests align?

By MEAGAN PEOPLES | May 4, 2017


FILE PHOTO. Through HCPI, the University has devoted $10 million to be spent over five years to benefit 10 local neighborhoods such as Charles Village

Many have criticized the University for ignoring the needs of local residents and solely acting to promote its own interests.

However, the Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI), a University-sponsored plan to invest in and improve the areas surrounding the Homewood campus, seeks to reconcile the interests of Hopkins and local communities.

HCPI is largely unknown among Hopkins students, and yet the University implemented this initiative in part because of them.

By developing its surrounding neighborhoods, the University aims to attract and retain prospective students. 

Where does Hopkins fit in?

The University commissioned HCPI with the help of the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP). CBP has worked to guide the development and improvement of Central Baltimore, an area that includes 10 neighborhoods, one commercial district and all of Homewood campus. 

As one of the founding and governing members of CBP, the University is currently working alongside 91 other institutions, non-profits, corporations and community organizations to support neighborhoods by improving education, housing and commercial enterprises.

In 2012, the University funded a comprehensive study headed by Joseph McNeely, the former executive director and founder of CBP, to learn more about the needs of 10 neighborhoods located just south of campus.

They include Abell, Barclay, Charles North, Charles Village, Greenmount West, Harwood, Oakenshawe, Old Goucher, Remington, Wyman Park and the commercial district Waverly Main Street.

After seven months, the University released its findings in a report titled “The Homewood Community Partners Intiative, A Call to Action: Findings and Recommendations.” The CBP adopted the report as its guiding agenda.

The plan details goals that address community concerns, which include vacant housing, sanitation, safety, public education, retail development and local hiring. For example, they aim to add 3,000 households to central Baltimore within the next 10 years and increase collaboration between stakeholders in the neighborhoods.

The report estimates that it would cost $60 million to meet the goals of HCPI. Hopkins has committed $10 million to be used over five years and has spent $7,668,603 to date.

The largest amount of money, $3,274,480, has gone towards funding construction projects in two local public schools: the Margaret Brent Elementary and Middle School and the Barclay Elementary School.

Sharicca Boldon, the community school coordinator for Strong City Baltimore, a nonprofit focused on improving Baltimore neighborhoods, facilitates communication between the Barclay and Margaret Brent Schools and community partners.

She believes that the University’s work benefits itself in addition to the schools and that improving local schools can help the University attract potential faculty and staff.

“Having a desirable place to live is related to having a strong school option available for those who have school-aged children,” Boldon said. “So I think in the long run, this investment helps [Hopkins] create a competitive advantage.”

The case for action

While the HCPI includes goals to improve the community, it also addresses how meeting these goals aligns with the University’s interests. In particular, the report highlights how improving local communities can help fight the perception that Baltimore is an unsafe or impoverished city.

The report states that the neighborhoods through which people travel to campus can affirm Baltimore’s reputation as a city with “blight, crime and disinvestment” to prospective students and their parents.

“Strengthening the communities immediately surrounding the Homewood campus will have a powerful, counterinfluence on the negative imagery of Baltimore, leading to a positive impact on student recruitment and retention,” the report states.

Andy Frank, special adviser to University President Ronald J. Daniels, has a seat on the CBP steering committee. His work centers on implementing the HCPI and the East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI), a program focused on improving the areas around the East Baltimore Campus. Specifically, Frank coordinates University funds and connects the University’s needs to those of the community.

“Our responsibility is to wake up in the morning and think about how to work with and improve the neighborhoods [covered by the plan], but at the same time, advance the interest of the University,” he said.

McNeely described the University’s rationale for expanding its involvement in the community.

“We’re not pretending that nobody has self-interest,” he said. “When we came up with the HCPI, Ron [Daniels] welcomed everybody to the first meeting and said, ‘We’re not doing this as Hopkins just because we’re good guys. We’ve got some real issues... We accept students that don’t come here, and when we interview why they didn’t come, they say the surrounding neighborhoods turned them or their parents off. That’s a problem.’”

According to McNeely, the University’s openness about its interests gives community members a transparent view of how Hopkins will impact their neighborhoods.

“People were relieved, thinking, ‘okay, we know what Hopkins wants,’” he said.

McNeely also acknowledged that the different interests of CBP’s various members occasionally come into conflict.

“Another issue that we’ve had to balance here is making sure that there’s parity at the table,” he said. “You’ve got a university president sitting across the table from an elected president of a neighborhood association... How do you get the voices to be equal?”

Improving local neighborhoods can serve the interests of the University and community partners, as well as current Hopkins students. Senior Tommy Koh, who interns under Frank, argued that students play an important role in HCPI.

“It’s not about how students are involved as much as it should be about how students are engaged. Students are engaged with HCPI in many ways without even knowing it,” he wrote. “As they volunteer, eat and attend events with the communities around campus in the HCPI target area, they are participating within and contributing to building the capacity of these neighborhoods.”

Accounting for the voice of the community

Currently, the CBP serves as an organizational body that oversees, coordinates and facilitates the work done by community partners.

“Central Baltimore Partnership itself doesn’t really run programs or do development; The partners do and the partnership is a facilitator,” McNeely said. “I used to say that the Central Baltimore Partnership was this big parade, and everybody got to march behind their own banner, and the job of the partnership was to plan the route.”

The partnership has also connected smaller organizations to investors and more influential partners, allowing them to better serve Baltimore.

For example, Jubilee, a non-profit real estate development corporation, was able to head the redevelopment of two affordable apartment complexes by working with CBP. The apartment complexes, named City Arts and City Arts Two, were made specifically for artists. Charles Duff, the president of Jubilee, spoke positively about collaborating with CBP.

“They say what’s going on right around the Homewood campus in central Baltimore is unique, remarkable and a model for institutions all over the country,” Duff said.

Jubilee also worked on redeveloping The Centre Theatre on North Avenue. The building, which stood vacant for 25 years, now houses the JHU-MICA Film Centre, among other organizations. Duff explained that partnering with Hopkins was key to the project’s success.

“Little old Jubilee had leased 40 percent of its vacant building to the best paying tenants in the Baltimore office market,” Duff said. “[Hopkins and MICA] made it possible for us to finance the renovation of a $19 million building. Nobody ever would have invested or lent $19 million just to us because we’re cute. They wanted to make sure we’d be able to pay it back. And Hopkins and MICA made that look real.”

In addition to creating partnerships between organizations and investors, CBP also awards grants.

Silvia Blitzer Golombek, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Hopkins, is a member of the CBP grant approval committee. Her work centers around reviewing applications for spruce-up grants, which aim to improve physical aspects of the community. Some of their projects have included funding public art and planting trees.

“[The grants are] filling a gap. There are a few organizations which may give out small garden beautification grants,” she said. “[CBP] also gives out pretty sizeable grants, maybe above $10,000 to $20,000. And that’s very significant. So the communities can really do something meaningful and sustainable.”

So far, Hopkins has committed $300,000 dollars to these grants. Salem Reiner, the director of community affairs at Hopkins, explained that spruce-up grants go beyond just physically improving the neighborhood.

“Equally important is that [spruce-up grants] build grassroots skills and civic engagement,” he said. “By design, to carry out these projects, the community organizations need to work with each other, need to learn how to put together the skill set to advance a project.”

Residents’ concerns

Though some residents of the central Baltimore area are optimistic about the development, residents of Remington, a neighborhood located just south of the Hopkins campus, have voiced concerns about displacement stemming from rising housing prices.

Ryan Flanigan, the former president and current board member of the Greater Remington Improvement Association (GRIA), addressed the source of their concerns.

“Remington’s proximity to Hopkins and other stable communities such as Hampden and Charles Village coupled with the availability of cheap, dense housing stock and its proximity to the [Interstate] 83 come together with other factors to cause the rise in housing prices we see today,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Frank acknowledges those concerns but argues that no current residents have been displaced because of rising housing prices.

“Remington has, I think, legitimate concerns about displacement,” he said. “I don’t think within the HCPI neighborhoods we have seen levels of displacement, in part because the new housing that’s been built is being built on land that was not formerly housing.”

Frank also argued that low levels of displacement exist because of the Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Program. Established by state law, this program allows households to deduct a portion of their property tax based on their income level. It aims to protect lower income homeowners in areas where property values are increasing at a higher rate than income levels.

“It’s specifically a state program to keep people in their homes. They benefit from the increased [property] value, but they don’t have the burden of more taxes,” Frank said.

Duff, who sits on the residential development and marketing committee for CBP, also acknowledged the importance of this tax break.

“If you’re a homeowner in Baltimore city or anywhere else, the value of your property can double, can quintuple, can octuple — it can do whatever it wants — but your actual tax bill cannot go up by more than four percent a year,” Duff said.

Ellen Janes, the current executive director of CBP, confirmed Frank’s assessment on displacement.

“Honestly, we haven’t displaced anyone, anywhere,” Janes said.

With the exception of Remington, Frank adds, the six neighborhoods with the highest levels of distress, Harwood, Barclay, Greenmount West, Charles North and Old Goucher, are not looking to increase the number of available affordable housing units. Instead, they seek to create a mixed-income neighborhood.

“Those neighborhoods in the process said, ‘We want to make the amount of affordable housing that is within the district now better and more permanent, but we don’t necessarily want to increase the amount of affordable housing. We like to have a mix and we like that mix reflected in our local schools.’” Frank said.

In contrast, Remington sees a need for more affordable housing.

GRIA is currently working with CBP to create a land trust which would protect low income households from rising house prices. Flanigan emphasized why they needed such a program.

“Remington has been a multi-class community for generations,” he wrote. “However, that traditional diversity, which residents value, is at risk from rising rents and home values, so we are looking to strategies that will prevent displacement of vulnerable residents. Community Land Trusts create permanently affordable community controlled housing by removing homes from the open market, thus preserving their affordability for generations to come.”

However, Janes cautioned that there are difficulties in forming a land trust.

“It’s a very complex tool, not easy to use and hasn’t really been used in Baltimore; though there’s a couple of existing land trusts, but they haven’t been able to acquire more than one or two properties,” Janes said.

While the University is not directly involved with the development of the land trusts, Frank argues that the Remington community has access to resources which Hopkins has helped to establish.

Overall, Frank sees the HCPI as a way for the University to work in concert with the local communities so that both parties can benefit.

“We have the luxury of working with communities that want the same outcomes that we do, which is better schools, safer streets, more vibrant retail and more economic inclusion,” Frank said. “You won’t find anybody within the HCPI community that doesn’t want that.”

Duff, a Baltimore native, appreciates the increased connection between Hopkins and the community. He emphasized how important it is that the University accept greater responsibility for the wellbeing of its surrounding neighborhoods.

“I’ve always been sort of disappointed that Hopkins kept such a low profile in the city, that you could live your whole life in Baltimore without ever going on the Hopkins campus,” Duff said. “There are all these fascinating things that happens on the Hopkins campus, but the University has always been sort of a closed community. It’s beginning to open up, and that, I think, is a good thing.”

Editor’s Note: Tommy Koh is a frequent contributor to the Opinions section of The News-Letter. He was not involved in the process of reporting, writing or editing the article in any way.

This article is part of a series on the University’s relationship with its surrounding communities. See our previous coverage on Remington here.

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