Johns Hopkins University and Health System wields significant economic power in Baltimore. As of 2014, it holds property in the city worth almost $50 billion, employs tens of thousands of local residents and has paid about $10 million to the city in payments in lieu of taxes since 2010. Yet with 22.1 percent of Baltimore residents living in povert, many people have scrutinized the disparity between the University’s wealth and the economic hardship experienced in the neighborhoods around many of its campuses.
In an effort to increase its investment in those neighborhoods, the University launched HopkinsLocal following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the subsequent Baltimore Uprising. During the Uprising, peaceful and violent protests against police brutality and economic injustice took place across the city.
Daniel Ennis, the University’s senior vice president of finance and administration, explained that Hopkins was already committed to economic inclusion prior to Gray’s death. Ennis said that while University President Ronald J. Daniels had been pushing for a program like HopkinsLocal since joining the University in 2009, the Uprising accelerated the process.
“In truth, Hopkins had a long history and commitment to economic inclusion, but President Daniels felt like we could take it to another level,” he said.
HopkinsLocal identifies three areas for the institution to focus its local investments: construction and real estate development, purchasing goods and services from local businesses, and employing Baltimore City residents. These three areas of investment are referred to as build, buy and hire.
Kylie Patterson joined Hopkins as the director of economic inclusion in 2017 to lead HopkinsLocal. Patterson stated that in talks with community leaders following the Uprising, Hopkins identified a clear need for jobs in the city.
Through HopkinsLocal, the institution sought to recruit from , many of which include Hopkins campuses and the disinvested communities around them. Most of these new hires were for entry-level jobs with low education requirements, such as administrative coordinators.
Patterson said that Hopkins targeted parts of the city with higher levels of poverty and unemployment for recruitment.
“If we’re going to hire from the city and make some focused investments, we want to make sure we’re impacting neighborhoods with higher rates of unemployment and poverty,” she said. “We are working to uncover the diamonds that are here so that they can work at Johns Hopkins, so that they can have these opportunities. These people have very high capacity, high potential. The only difference is that now we are reaching out and saying, ‘please consider Johns Hopkins as an employer.’”
According to a three-year progress report released last week, Hopkins filled 47 percent of these targeted positions with residents from the focus zip codes in the 2018 fiscal year. This percentage is an increase compared to 45 percent in 2017 and 43 percent in 2016. In the last three years, Hopkins hired a total of 1,017 workers from the focus zip codes.
Lawrence Brown, an associate professor at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy, criticized what he called a lack of data in the reporting on HopkinsLocal’s progress. He questioned why Hopkins hadn’t shared more data such as the number of new hires per zip code, their race and what positions they’d been hired to.
While he acknowledged the institution’s progress on some goals, he questioned the actual impact the program will have on low-income neighborhoods.
“A thousand jobs is nothing to sneeze at. I think that’s actually a good thing, but I’m asking about the quality of those jobs,” Brown said. “If they’re being paid a minimum wage, they’re still not necessarily stable. Their housing and their living situation is still not necessarily stable.”
Brown added that it is important to scrutinize the institution’s treatment of workers and contextualize HopkinsLocal within the institution’s broader economic activity in the city.
In 2017, the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), a group of Hopkins students and workers, rallied for greater job security, a $15 minimum wage and housing benefits. Recently, Hopkins Hospital nurses accused the University of seeking to block them from unionizing.
“Working against the economic prospects of workers and laborers all over the city who work minimum wage jobs — that is what reveals true intentions,” Brown said. “The real intention is perhaps to nominally increase a low-paying workforce that works for the advantage of the institution, but it’s not to really transform, to dynamically change economic conditions in any real way.”
Through HopkinsLocal, Hopkins sought to increase spending by $15 million in three years for local companies in spend categories such as professional services or catering. In addition, the institution hired Crystal Burns as the small business and supplier diversity lead.
Burns explained that she identified areas where the University could increase its purchasing from local businesses, including IT services, catering, janitorial work and others. She said that many people at Hopkins already buy locally but do not realize it.
“Once you give them the tools, they can be intentional about what they’re spending,” Burns said. “We have so many local caterers in the city that can do the exact same thing that Panera can do, and we can support our local economy, so why not?”
Hopkins increased spending for local businesses from $89 million in 2014 to $118 million in the 2018 fiscal year. The institution also created 26 development plans with local and nonlocal suppliers in which the companies agreed to hire, procure or invest more in Baltimore.
One such company is Waste Neutral, a local firm that hauls food waste to a composting site. Keith Losoya, who owns Waste Neutral and had already worked with Hopkins prior to agreeing to a development plan, said that business has sharply increased since the launch of HopkinsLocal.
He explained that small businesses often struggle to keep up with the demand of large institutions. He said that while it makes sense for large institution to try to keep their costs down, it’s worthwhile to invest in smaller businesses even though they often have higher costs because they can’t buy in bulk like large regional suppliers.
“That’s always been the conflict with trying to support local while also trying to be kind on your budget,” Losoya said. “There’s a little bit of an investment sometimes in order to support some of these locals just because they can’t operate in the same margins.”
Burns explained that while many of the institution’s supplier needs can’t be met by local businesses because Baltimore is a smaller city, Hopkins also tries to bring larger supply companies to the city or at least have them commit to hiring local workers.
“We work together to figure out what’s the best synergy depending on the situation and the company,” Burns said. “Everyone is different, but in order to be a part of HopkinsLocal they have to support our goals in some type of way.”
Wesnet is a medical supply company based in Massachusetts that moved part of its operation to Baltimore after starting work with Hopkins and other local institutions. Westnet CEO Gordon Thompson estimated that his company has grown by 400 percent in the last six years, a large part of which he attributed to working with HopkinsLocal.
He said that Hopkins and other large employers have a responsibility to use their power to address economic inequality.
“It’s important, in terms of leveling the playing field and making sure to lessen the disparities in our society and Baltimore in particular,” he said. “HopkinsLocal has an effect on a vendor like Westnet because it’s saying to that vendor, ‘We’re trying. We’re doing some outreach here. We’re trying to narrow the gaps.’”
Lawrence Brown, however, contended that the University should be doing more to support local businesses, particularly in Baltimore’s black butterfly. Brown coined the term “black butterfly” in his research to refer to the pattern of poor, predominantly black neighborhoods that spread out from North Charles Street and downtown Baltimore in the shape of a butterfly wings.
He said that HopkinsLocal should be modeled on Cleveland’s a grassroots economic development program launched in 2008 which seeks to build the local economy from the ground up with worker-owned businesses.
“There isn’t a deep level of thinking about how to radically boost economic inclusion, to radically improve cooperative economic prospects in the city,” Brown said. “Hopkins could probably spawn and support 10, if not more, cooperative economic enterprises in the black butterfly, but that hasn’t even been a part of the discussion.”
Through HopkinsLocal, the institution sought to dedicate 20 percent of spending on construction projects that involved minority and women-owned firms. Hopkins also partnered with other corporations in Baltimore to host the BUILD College, a training program for local small business owners in the construction industry.
Crampton said that she was surprised by how academic the program was and added that the program did not seek to recruit members of the cohort for Hopkins, instead focusing on giving participants training in industry best practices.
“Even though they are such a large organization, the people that work for them understand how hard it can be to make it as a small business,” she said. “It seems like it comes natural to them to help small businesses grow.”
Last year, Hopkins committed $48.5 million, or 23 percent, of construction spending to women and minority-owned businesses.
However, many community members have criticized the institution’s spending on construction and redevelopment in Baltimore for promoting gentrification and displacement in the city’s historically black neighborhoods, many of which are near Hopkins campuses.
East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI), a $1.8 billion development initiative led by Hopkins in conjunction with Baltimore City and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, began in 2002 and has sincein Middle East, a neighborhood to the north of the Hopkins med campus.
Donald Gresham, the director of the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment (BRACE), criticized Hopkins and said it has suppressed the voices of the community members who were displaced by EBDI.
“When you’re living here, it’s like you’re living on the plantation, because Hopkins wants to make sure it controls everything around it,” he said. “They thought displacing us and moving us out would be the best way to do that.”
The News-Letter met with a group of Baltimore residents who had been displaced by EBDI. The News-Letter granted the following interviewed residents permission to go by only their first names in order to protect their privacy.
Residents explained that in the early 2000s, EBDI bought property in Middle East and increased the number of vacant homes in the neighborhood. One woman, Deborah, said that this led to her house filling with rats from the abandoned units nearby. Another, Mary, said the unit next door to hers had flooded, causing structural damage. They said that EBDI failed to address these problems and encouraged the tenants to simply move.
The residents said that the payments they received — around $22,000 — weren’t enough to afford a new house. Mary also said that she wasn’t able to cash the cheque she received from EBDI. She added that she was still paying off the loan she’d taken out to afford a new house.
Of the four, only one — a man named Ed — said he had heard of HopkinsLocal.
Ed said that the results of HopkinsLocal had been overwhelmingly lackluster, adding that he had not seen it directly affect his community. He called the program a publicity stunt designed to appease the institution’s wealthy donors.
“I don’t believe the program is meant for members of the community,” he said. “It’s not for us. It’s never been for us. They don’t want to include us because they don’t want us to ask questions. But who’s better to question the validity of their claims than the community it’s meant to help.”
Gresham felt that when Hopkins refers to a “community” in Baltimore, they exclude the historic residents of Middle East and other neighborhoods.
One of the residents, Gloria, believes that the conversation needed to have been based around the residents.
“If it was for the community like they said, they would have had those conversations beforehand,” she said. “We feel as though we’ve been overlooked. They’ve been making decisions without us.”
Lawrence Brown said that much of the institution’s development in Baltimore sparks similar tensions to where Daniels was provost from 2005 to 2008. This, he said, made it clear that Hopkins actively works to gentrify the neighborhoods around its campuses.
“That’s the number one agenda for the University, not HopkinsLocal,” Brown said. “[Daniels] was brought here because he had that level of expertise in doing the very thing he’s done since he arrived here, so it’s hard to say that this is somehow not intentional.”
Kylie Patterson distinguished HopkinsLocal from some of the institution’s other investments in Baltimore. She explained that HopkinsLocal sought to address the city’s racial wealth divide by helping local employees and business owners secure employment with benefits.
“My dream, one day, is that someone who is a longtime Baltimore resident, who’s never owned a home or no one in their family has owned a home... will actually be able to aspire to a job at Johns Hopkins, get different types of support so they can move up in their career and one day buy a home in Baltimore,” Patterson said. “That’s the dream.”
Daniel Ennis pointed to the institution’s involvement in the Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI) and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program as other examples of the institution’s work supporting community.
Through HCPI, Hopkins leads addressing issues like vacant housing, safety, public education and local hiring. Michael Bloomberg, an alum who recently donated $1.8 billion toward financial aid at Hopkins, through his charity Bloomberg Philanthropies to bring 10,000 Small Businesses to Baltimore. Hopkins hosts the program’s classes.
Like Patterson, Ennis also distanced HopkinsLocal from the institution’s involvement with EBDI, explaining that HopkinsLocal is a city-wide effort with broader scope.
“EBDI is obviously a very important project in total for this institution as an economic and community development moment, but it has its own governance, of which we are a big part, and it has its own economic inclusion program with very ambitious targets,” he said. “When we were setting our goals, we looked at their program to figure out what they were doing and how they were doing it and learned from their processes, but it’s distinct.”
With the first stage of HopkinsLocal complete, talk about the program’s next steps is already underway. Ennis said that institution has a lot of work to do.
He said that HopkinsLocal needed to do better retaining new hires so that they progress onto a career at Hopkins. Ennis also noted that the University needed to think more creatively and aggressively to cultivate and support young businesses.
“We’re such an important economic driver in the city,” Ennis said. “We can and need to figure out ways to be creative and more on our toes rather than reacting to opportunities we see in terms of supporting emerging businesses in the neighborhoods that surround us.”
No matter what the next phase of HopkinsLocal will be, Crystal Burns reaffirmed the institution’s commitment to investing more in Baltimore.
“We’re trying to make it so that it’s second nature that people are going and they’re buying locally, or they’re going out and hiring locally or making sure that they find those local contractors to fulfill those projects that we have,” Burns said. “We’re trying to put this in Hopkins’ DNA.”
Burns also said that moving forward, she wanted to find ways to get more students involved.
Student Government Association (SGA) Executive President AJ Tsang said that there was potential for students to get more involved with HopkinsLocal through the Center for Social Concern (CSC). He noted that there’s a lot of untapped energy in the student body.
“There’s a lot of potential for students to be involved in actually setting up HopkinsLocal because I think that would not only familiarize students with the city more and have students help out the city more, but also allow HopkinsLocal to have more support from the Hopkins community than it already has,” Tsang said.
Clarissa Chen graduated from Hopkins in December and now works as a program assistant for the CSC’s Community Impact Internships Program.
She acknowledged a common perception that Hopkins students are apathetic and disengaged with social and political issues, both in Baltimore and more generally. She said that many Hopkins students live in Baltimore for four years but fail to meaningfully engage with the city, adding that Hopkins could be more intentional about how it introduces students to Baltimore during Orientation.
Chen also said that Hopkins has a responsibility to respond to Baltimore’s needs. She criticized Hopkins for failing to include the voices of community members in programs like HopkinsLocal that the institution claims are meant to help those communities.
“Having an intention to include community members within discussions can contribute to uplifting voices that are oftentimes marginalized and oppressed,” Chen said. “It’s about an equitable decision making process to get to the end result.”
Lawrence Brown agreed that Hopkins should seek to empower black residents who have historically lived in the neighborhoods around Hopkins campuses. However, he added that Hopkins couldn’t make a change for the better while continuing its development in Baltimore, particularly in Middle East.
“It can’t be trying to do charity and HopkinsLocal on one side and then policing and continuing the history of distrust and mistrust on the other side,” Brown said. “HopkinsLocal is not judged in a vacuum. HopkinsLocal is judged on how the institution is dealing with the community overall.”
Donald Gresham, director of BRACE, said that community members need to have a larger voice in the institution’s investments in Baltimore, whether in development projects like EBDI or in initiatives like HopkinsLocal. He added that Hopkins should seek to negotiate a memorandum of understanding, which is an informal legal agreement, with BRACE.
He was not optimistic, however, that Hopkins would improve.
“Unless it gets willing to look at itself and see what it’s doing, it will never be corrected. And that’s painful to people who really love Hopkins. The community doesn’t hate it. They hurt by it. It’s a painful thing,” Gresham said. “It doesn’t want to admit its failure. And not only admit it, but fix it.”
Ennis said that Baltimore is an amazing city, but acknowledged that it’s one with important challenges.
“This is where we live, this is who we are and so we’ve got to figure out... the path to economic opportunity,” Ennis said. “It’s as much altruistic as it is self interested in terms of the vitality and competitiveness of this institution. We’ve got to get this right.”