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June 4, 2023

East Baltimore residents discuss property compensation

By Patrice Hutton | February 16, 2006

As demolition continues for Phase I of East Baltimore's Biotechnical Park, residents gathered Monday to discuss concerns about subsequent relocation phases, including the fear that relocated residents will not be able to afford housing after their relocation compensation runs out.

"After those five years, when that supplement runs out, what happens to the residents relocated to more stable communities who can no longer pay their rent?" Marisela Gomez, director of SMEAC, asked.

President William Brody, Hopkins Health Systems Director Ron Peterson and Vice President Sally McConnell were unavailable for comment.

Residents attending the monthly Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC) meeting also expressed a concern about the fact that East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) has not yet solidified plans for Phases II and III of relocation, which have been renamed as the project's "subsequent phases."

Concerns about unfinished relocation plans and rental issues make for an uncertain immediate future for residents, Gomez said.

"EBDI has no plan whatsoever for the next stages," resident Lisa Williams said at the meeting. "They admit to that because we had a planning session, and they didn't have a plan ready."

EBDI project associate Shanelle Shakoor reported that delays in cementing plans for the project's subsequent phases are the result of not having funding completely secured.

"We're also still looking for which properties would be best to take in. We're not on schedule, but we're proceeding," Shakoor said.

Gomez said that one of EBDI's largest concerns ought to be securing the futures of the renters, who comprise approximately 50 percent of the community.

EBDI's redevelopment plan stipulates that renters will receive relocation compensation for between 42 and 60 months, in accordance with the Urban Renewal Act's requirement that renters receive supplemental money up to five years after relocation "These residents are on fixed incomes. They're not going to suddenly come into money. They'll probably have to move into more deteriorated neighborhoods than they moved out of," she added.

Resident representative to the EBDI board Donald Greshman agreed with Gomez.

"The renters are going to end up in shelters or homeless," Gresham said.

Resident James Johnson attended the SMEAC meeting in order to learn more about his status as a renter.

"If you're a renter, you get enough to move, and they pay you an amount of money up to a certain amount of time, but that's it," Johnson said.

The renters are the most vulnerable members of the community, Gomez noted.

"We found that the majority of households with children are low-income renters," she said.

"Not only are we putting the most at-risk group out in the cold, but also a generation of children on the streets, opening them up to crime and poverty."

However, Joseph Landers, executive vice president of the Baltimore Board of Realtors, said that in the case of the East Baltimore redevelopment, the renters are being well compensated compared to what they would recieve if another organization were heading the relocation process.

"The renters are being given a pretty decent allowance," Landers said.

"If you look at this from another standpoint, forget that there's a project there. If a landlord gave renters a notice to leave, they'd have to leave within 60 days and relocate."

Possible relocation is a threat that renters in all scenarios face, Landers noted.

"You can go two blocks away in East Baltimore and find families who are being relocated without receiving any benefit," he added.

Shakoor pointed out that EBDI offers family services including workforce development and job placement consulting. She noted that EBDI tries to get residents involved in these programs.

"We encourage residents to take advantage of these services as needed. If people are able to increase their income by taking on a job, that concern may be addressed," Shakoor said.

According to Gomez, one of SMEAC's goals is to encourage EBDI to increase the amount of time that residents are monitored after relocation.

"If EBDI is true to the rhetoric of benefiting the residents and true to eminent domain, the plan will have to include how to look after the residents even after two to three years," Gomez said.

Landers, however, said he doesn't feel that it should be the responsibility of EBDI to monitor the progress of the residents for that long after relocation.

"It sounds awfully paternalistic to me that somebody feels like somebody is going to watch over them for 15 to 20 years," Landers said.

At some point I think you'd expect for people to make some level of recovery on their own," he added.

"Once the development is complete, will EBDI as it exists today even exist?"

Along with Greshman, Brody and McConnell sit on the EBDI board.

"In the relocation board meetings we have, the Johns Hopkins representatives aren't present. What Hopkins is trying to do is a hidden thing. If they're not there, they can't be blamed," Greshman said.

Greshman, along with other residents, continues to fault Hopkins for their forced relocation.

"Johns Hopkins is getting rich off the backs of the poor. But they don't call it Johns Hopkins. They call it EBDI," said resident Vernon Blackston, who has lived in the East Baltimore area for 23 years.

"This project is a collaboration among many partners," said Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

"Among those partners are Johns Hopkins, but also the residents of those affected areas."

"It's a collaboration intended to revitalize the area, and not for Hopkins' benefit, but for the benefit of the community," he added.

At the SMEAC meeting, residents also worked on developing a proposal to present to the EBDI board.

"Should EBDI decide that renovation rather than demolition would suffice for some properties in the area, residents want to have say in formulation of a plan," Williams said.

"Residents are looking at the types of houses and green spaces. We are going to present what the community wants to see," Williams said.

"I'm in Phase III, and I'd like to get a grant and bring my house up to the standards of the area," Blackston said.

She reported that due to EBDI's failure to solidify subsequent relocation stages plans, she has been forced to "hurry up and wait.

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