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March 1, 2024

Residents discuss acquisition's aftermath

By Patrice Hutton | October 4, 2006

Nearly 250 residents of East Baltimore convened on Thursday at an annex building of St. Wenceslas Cathedral for the final of a series of five meetings hosted by East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI); they were officially informed whether or not their property would be acquired by the city.

Funding for Phase I of the project came from a combination of different constituents -- as part of the redevelopment will be used by Baltimore City, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Johns Hopkins. Demolition for Phase I is nearly complete with construction of the first of five life science buildings, that are part of the planned Johns Hopkins Biotechnical Park, already underway. As many as an additional 300 families could lose their homes in Phase II of development, which will cover an area of over 50 acres. According to officials, although it is presently uncertain who will fund Phase II, EBDI has been working on assembling similar funding from private stakeholders who have an interest in the project.

Ninety percent of relocated families have chosen to stay in Baltimore; 30 families found housing in the East Baltimore area. Residents, however, have expressed the concern that returning to the East Baltimore neighborhood is out of the question, as property values in the redeveloped area will be out of the affordable range.

Nearly 400 families have already been forced from their East Baltimore homes to make room for the development of the Biotech Park that the University plans to use for laboratory-based

research.

Several residents have reacted to the ongoing development with considerable unease over what is being taken as a defeat in a fight for their homes.

"People are grieving the death of their community," Marisela Gomez, director of the Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC), an organization residents formed to advocate for just financial compensation for the properties acquired by EBDI, said.

"[Residents] are talking about not being able to drive by, mourning the loss of their community," she added.

Jack Shannon, president of EBDI, reported that approximately 100 properties are planned to be preserved in the second phase of the redevelopment, which was not the case in Phase I.

"Unlike the first phase of the project, we are proposing that there are significant parts of the community that are targeted for preservation so those families can continue living on those blocks," he said.

But residents have responded with skepticism toward these proposals.

"If they can save half the street, why can't they save all of it?" Ethel Burris, 71, a 60-year resident of East Baltimore who attended the meeting, said.

Shannon went on that his organization has promised to assist families through the relocation process.

"We recognize that this is an incredibly stressful situation for families. We're trying to make it as equitable a situation as possible," Jack Shannon, president of EBDI, said.

Helen Montag, special assistant for corporate affairs at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, agreed.

"We want to be extremely clear as a university that we want to make this work for everybody," Montag said.

"For [affected] families, the overwhelming majority of them are quite pleased by the prospect of being able to stay in their current homes and participate in the ongoing revitalization in this community that they've called home for so many years," Shannon maintained.

Shannon said that EBDI is working to ensure that residents are able to return to the neighborhood.

"Everyone who's been relocated has the right of first status to return and buy and rent properties.

"We're going to make sure that we make housing affordable. We're going to create a shared equity fund," Shannon said.

"Anybody who wants to come back into the neighborhood will be encouraged to do so, with the same or better housing opportunities," Montag said.

According to Shannon, within the next 90 days, EBDI will facilitate open-houses for residents to learn what options are available for their move.

"For every family or household that is required to be relocated in the second phase of the project will receive the same level of benefits, support and services as the families from the first phase of the project," he said.

Gomez said that SMEAC will continue its resident advocacy role throughout Phase II.

"SMEAC will do outreach to get people fully informed so they know what questions to ask of EBDI," Gomez said. "There also needs to be more of a concerted effort to psychologically help people through the process."


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