Letters to ed: Johns Hopkins challenged by staff, students, alumni to pay livable wages

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Letter to editor in The Daily Record, Baltimore, published April 10, 2014. Since it was published 8 other alumni and students signed on. Folks were represented from the US and mainland Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico.
Daily Record, let to ed

In regard “Hopkins workers reject pact, begin strike”, April 9, we alumni, students, and staff of the Johns Hopkins Academic Institutions in Baltimore and across mainland US and Puerto Rico, support the opportunity for all hospital workers to receive pay that will enable equitable access to resources and wellbeing. The lack of a live-able wage decreases access to affordable safe and sanitary housing, affordable health care, equitable education, safe and sanitary transportation, affordable recreation, and affordable healthy food. Poverty is the leading cause of poor health according to the World Health Organization. The hospital that is rated the number one health care institution in the country, part of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, has trained us to be leaders in preventive and public health, social determinants of health, and decreasing health inequity. But by paying its workers wages that do not allow them access to resources necessary for achieving health, the institution contributes not only to Baltimore’s pressing crisis of income inequality – the 10th worst in the United States’ big cities - it contributes to inequality in all the resources not affordable with poverty-level wages. We can and must do better to change this history and set a new path toward equity, building a better Baltimore for all. 

Luis Alberto Aviles Anne-Emanuelle Birn
Tyler Brown Rebecca Cohen
Nick Cuneo Hector Gomez Dantes
Lena Z. Denis Elizabeth DuVerlie
Stephanie Farquhar Ruthie Fesahazion
Caroline Fichtenberg Kate Flores
Andrea Gerstenberger Joshua Garoon
Marisela Gomez Kate Hayman
Issac Howley Alexander Jenson
Kate Khatib Sara Evangeline Larson
Kathryn Leifheit Sabriya Linton
Lavanya Madhusudan Jillian Marks
Sara McClean Nicky Methani
Kate Miele Shivani Patel
Isabel Perera Tonia Poteat
Chavi Rhodes Adam Richards
Mike Rogers Max Romano
Samuel Scharff Anthony Serritella
Ellen Shaffer Emma Tsui
Tyler Smith Amber Summers
Jenny Tighe Deanna Wilson
Diana Wohler Julia Zur

__________

April 7, Baltimore Sun Letter to editor from Hopkins physicians
Baltimore Sun Let to ed

____________

DSC_1516Hopkins low wage workers and advocates strike for a livable wage

DSC_1521Market rate apartments are constructed next to Hopkins, unaffordable to the low wage workers striking for a livable wage

DSC_1528Hopkins students and staff support a livable wage for all Hopkins workers at a candlelight vigil Wednesday April 9

The rhetoric of power

After another story glossing over the “truth” of equitable access to the new Hopkins-Henderson Community school in East Baltimore, Father Peter Lyons (St. Wenceslaus Church, East Baltimore) and myself wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. We decided after two weeks that maybe-just saying- they won’t publish it?

Here’s what we had to say:

In regard “Reading, Writing and Renewal (the Urban Kind)” of March 18 2014. “…We wanted Henderson-Hopkins to be an inspiration and magnet for the neighborhood.” A quote from East Baltimore Development Inc’s CEO. Like a similar urban experiment in West Philadelphia, the results are already in. “Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities” by Maia B Cucchiara (2013) describes the outcomes: “In their zeal to attract more middle-class families to the city, policy makers and educators adopted a stance where (white) middle-class families were seen as more valuable and more worthy than the existing working-class families.” If more evidence is needed to tell us where Baltimore’s experiment in social engineering is heading, an application policy and process for school attendance gives relocated residents three days to apply and no notice to historic residents while ample notice to Hopkins staff and students continues, assuring gentrification. The admission policy favors applicants from outside the redevelopment zone who are employed by Johns Hopkins and new developments, over historic residents of the neighborhood. Community organizations must alert residents of upcoming application deadlines and request meetings with the school’s leadership, knowing that existing neighbors are not the target of the magnets rebuilding this East Baltimore neighborhood.

New York Times article, March 18, 2014

Reading, writing, and renewal (the urban kind)

David and Goliath again: low-wage workers and Johns Hopkins Hospital

The current negotiations for a livable wage between low-wage workers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the leadership reminds us of the historical David and Goliath story, again. Putting aside the biblical source and broadening the analogy to a secular world, those without power against those with power is the same ole story here.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of a typical block in its neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of a typical block in its neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore

Why are we here again? Three years ago I gave a talk at the Fair Development Conference in Baltimore sponsored by United Workers titled “Saving Middle East Baltimore from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions: David and Goliath”. (1) It was a history of land banking and “negro removal” tactics engineered by the Hopkins Institutions over the last 70 years. The impact of such exploitation on the health of the people and place of Middle East Baltimore was discussed. The question asked of the audience was how can we begin to measure the outcomes of the glaring gap between the growth of this powerful institution and the surrounding community, one of the most fragile, poor, and disinvested neighborhoods in Baltimore, with health indicators described by Johns Hopkins as one of the worst in the nation.

Fast forward to 2014 and today the prestigious institution continues its role of Goliath by exploiting those least vulnerable to assure its continued growth in wealth and health. This time the exploited “David” are none other than their own employees who do not earn a living wage. (2,3) If it was not so ironic it would be a wonderful “dark” comedy, particularly since many of the workers in low wage service jobs at the institution are African Americans. But this is not a comedy, a farce, or anything for anyone to laugh about; it is deadly. It is a story which continues to reveal the reason the gap between the rich and the poor and the effects on their health continue to widen: those with access to resources have better health and live longer lives while those with less resources have more illnesses and die at an earlier age. (4,5,6) Low wage workers seeking fair compensation for their labor cannot afford health insurance while working at the number one ranked health care institution in the world. The stress of not having enough money to make ends meet is consistent and chronic and sets up the body and mind to be vulnerable to acute and chronic illnesses such as infections, allergies, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, mental illness, cancers, addiction. (7,8)

Meanwhile the salary of the CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the president of Johns Hopkins University-each earning more than $1 million / year -certainly assures them access to all the resources that would minimize the stressors of affording food, shelter, clothing, and health care. (2,9) This premier health care institution persuades a vulnerable and gullible public that they are there to save lives and make Baltimore a healthy place to live; but for whom? The president of Johns Hopkins University has spoken eloquently of the new Henderson-Hopkins School it is running in East Baltimore as being a model of , “restoring the city’s east side as a safe, prosperous, and vibrant community”. (3) A vibrant and healthy community begins with the members of the community having employment which allows them to afford their homes, health insurance, healthy food, and time to spend with their children and participate in school activities. Poverty-level wages do not allow a vibrant and healthy community to exist or grow. In fact poverty is the leading cause of poor health according to the World Health Organization, among others. (10) Through these unfair labor practices the institution contributes to health disparity/inequity and is itself a social determinant of poor health. In light of its institutes and programs receiving thousands of dollars to eliminate health disparities/inequities, address the social determinants of health, and rebuild healthy urban neighborhoods, there is grave contradiction in what it says it is doing locally, nationally, and internationally and what it is doing at home within its walls and its neighborhood. (11)

The tools that allow this exploitation of the right to a living wage and access to good health are racism and classism and the power that white-run institutions accumulated from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, unfair laws, policies, and practices that grew the wealth of the few. The government institutions which rubber-stamped these policies and practices then, continue today as powerful public:private partnerships of neoliberalism. Transparency and accountability to the public remains low and corruption remains high. Large public subsidies, tax-exempt status, grants, and below-market value purchases of land from the government subsidize this private for-profit institution with public dollars and assure continued growth in power of this “Goliath”.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of land cleared for new housing- will their low-wage workers be able to afford to live here?

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of land cleared for new housing- will
their low-wage workers be able to afford to live here?

But today is a new day and after we confirm the data, what do we do? How can we support the current low-wage workers and their advocates-1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East- negotiating for a living wage that affords them health care and safe and sanitary living conditions? We can contact them through their website below, write letters to the editors of all periodicals in the city and beyond, call and write our public officials who vote on permits, grants, and tax-exemptions to the institution at all government levels, and write letters to the publications of the institution. (3) Students and faculty at the university are particularly helpful in writing and talking about this injustice to their colleagues. They can spread the word to their friends and colleagues at other institutions and learn more about wages at other prestigious hospitals and universities around the country. The institution has declared that if there is a strike it will have an alternative workforce ready to continue to provide services-their identified goals of health care delivery justifies their path of pay-inequity, “the-ends-justifies-the-means’ reality. If workers strike because they have no alternative, we can join in on the strike and show solidarity for our brothers and sisters willing to stand up to power: united we can send a powerful message that it is time for all employees to earn a wage which does not place them at risk of living in poverty and becoming sick. We need all the “Davids” to challenge this “Goliath” of Johns Hopkins and send a powerful message that we are tired of inequitable and non-sustainable wages that do not allow low-wage Baltimore workers to afford living in the very communities the institution is rebuilding.

Solidarity

Solidarity

This thinking and practice are revolutionary acts because it goes against the norm of accepting a powerful institution’s oppression of its employees fueled by its unhindered network of connections with government and corporate America. Today it may be service employees but we do not have to wait until tomorrow to see that this inequity in compensation for labor is widespread and is already affecting higher-waged employees at other hospitals and universities across the US. (12,13) Fair compensation helps to assure equitable and sustainable development in our city, and begins to narrow the income and health gap; anything else is a violation of the human rights and the health of individuals and communities and continues the legacy of race and class inequity. (14)

Source/coverage of Johns Hopkins Hospital employees protest for livable wage.
1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East website
The Real News Network
Baltimore Brew
Baltimore Sun

Local stuff: Organizing for equity, public:private power in Baltimore

The union is organizing for living wages and community participation at Baltimore’s institutions:

Johns-Hopkins-Hospital-workers-protest-poverty-wage-pay-scale

Hospital workers union campaign for a living wage for all

The art of organizing: MICA’s adjunct faculty organize

United Workers and East Baltimore community groups organize:Community being left out of Baltimore redevelopment, activists say

Public:private partnerships continue to dictate development in Baltimore, for better or for worse?

Proposed-ebdi-zoning-would-pave-the-way-for-market-rate-housing

Public housing sold to private interests

Speak out about what fair and ethical development means to you!

United Workers and Eastside groups organizing, marching and rallying this coming Saturday, March 29, 10:30 AM:

Raising awareness to the history of abandonment and inviting you to contribute to the solution!!

600 N. Patterson, Tench Tilghman

More information

Audience feedback on ‘Planning to Stay’ in Baltimore

Hello folks,

IMG-20140320-01382At the presentation with Mindy Fullilove and myself last week Thursday March 13,(held at Red Emma’s and co-sponsored by Red Emma’s and Baltimore Racial Justice Action) the focus on ‘planning to stay’ in our cities and the elements of urban restoration were discussed (featured in her latest book Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities). Participants were invited to stand up and take the pledge of ‘planning to stay’ by turning to their neighbor and speaking this out loud. Folks were then asked to write down on a piece of paper the things they wanted to change and add to Baltimore to make it a place they would want to stay. There were 75 responses from approximately 150 people in the audience. The categories of what should be added included better schools, housing for all incomes, employment that sustains families, better transportation, increased safety, diversity, solidarity, recreation centers, arts, political engagement and competence, and increased co-mingling of our sorted out city in all its areas of living.

The categories of what should be changed were similar with an additional 3 responses that the vitality and culture of the city should remain the same. Individual responses are here: What would you change/add in Baltimore.

A recording of the presentation and discussion is here: Presentation

This was such a thoughtful, comprehensive, and spontaneous contribution of what parts of Baltimore want to see happen for them to enjoy and celebrate their city, making it a more equitable and sustainable city for all to enjoy. We are contemplating sending a letter to the editor of one of the periodicals with a summary of your responses. Our voice as part of envisioning and implementing a democratic process-a revolutionary step- of claiming, changing, and maintaining the city is vital for us who all plan to stay and participate in making Baltimore a city we are all proud to call home, today and tomorrow for the old and the new!

Thank you for participating!!

In neo-liberal societies, revolution must be the norm

The nature of neo-liberalism, the practice of capitalism, assures inequity in all forms: housing, income, education, recreation, health, transportation…and on and on. Why? Because those with more capital (assets, access to assets and resources to assure more assets, education, housing, income, land, decision-making) have the power to grow power unequally through exploitation of those without. This growth of power is enabled by government’s partnership with private capital fueled by its negligence of the public it is fabricated to serve-inequity.

Therefore the only way to move toward balancing this absurd and evidenced power imbalance is through programs and policies which seek to undo this norm of society. We are then always in a state of revolution: whether we are aware or not we are counter-culture if we agree that the current inequity between the rich and the poor is unjust. We are revolutionaries if we agree that government policies and programs grow power imbalance through public:private partnerships that enable private growth on the backs of the people via tax subsidies and tax evasion. When the growing debt of government is the reason used to cut programs to the public but subsidies to the rich are held up as ushering in economic growth for all, revolution must become synonymous with the breath-it is necessary for all to survive and thrive!

We have allowed ourselves to accept as normal this fuel and outcome of capitalism: neoliberalism and inequity. Are we okay with this or are we ready for shameless revolution in every small and large act? Below are several examples of methods and practices being used to challenge the status quo of big business growth, government-sanctioned subsidies to the powerful, and government neglect.

Enjoy and act!

Freddie Mac challenged in foreclosure in Boston
Freddie in Boston

Cutting through red tape to allow small business start-ups, for everyone?
Small business

Poverty as a disease and how big business causes illness through marketing
Poverty and illness

Poverty is a dis-ease

Coca cola preys on illness

Black women, cancer, and inequity

Rich people don’t create jobs, consumers do
Tax the rich

A budget ahead of its time or finally?
A normal budget

Stipends/subsidies that grow power: from the bottom and from the top
Stipend changes poverty’s path

Tracking subsidies to the rich

Power of corruption in Harlem

Tifs for the rich in Chicago

Organizing for equity
Baltimore airport workers protest

Professors strike

The imagination of the right

Tenants take on landlords through advocacy and court
Baltimore and landlord exploitation

Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity

  

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Luxury apartments replace public housing in East Baltimore

This writing associates gentrification and inequality with the understanding that association is not causation. Further studies are analyzing the relationship between gentrification and inequality and vice versa. In the mean time, glance at the table compiled from two reports: Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank on cities undergoing gentrification through 2009 and Brookings Institute on inequality in cites in 2012. Seven out of the top 10 cities experiencing gentrification and inequality are the same: Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles. While the years are not consistent across the reports for a rigorous comparison it suggests a pattern of association. In the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank report on gentrification in cities Baltimore is ranked the highest in cities with low price land tracts (95% of land tracts are low price land tracts). However for the period studied -between 2005 and 2009- only 5% gentrification occurred in these tracts. (1) This is consistent with BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) data showing an increase between 2005 and 2007 but leveling off into 2009 (See June 2013 post on this site for graph of rebabbed houses in Baltimore as a proxy for increased house value).

Top 10 cities gentrified 

2005-2009*

Top 10 cities with largest income inequality 2012#
Boston Atlanta
Seattle San Francisco
New York City Miami
San Francisco Boston
Washington, DC Washington, DC
Atlanta New York City
Chicago Oakland
Portland Chicago
Tampa Los Angeles
Los Angeles Baltimore
*http://www.clevelandfed.org/
research/trends/2013/1113/01regeco.cfm
#Brookings Inst. Rpt

In the Brookings Institute report Baltimore ranked 10th out of 50 big cities in the US for the greatest gap between the rich and the poor in 2012. (2)  This current income inequality may reflect more recent gentrification processes which have occurred subsequent to 2009.

There are two big initiatives of revitalization ongoing in Baltimore, one a legacy of a previous mayor (now governor) and the other of the current mayor: 1)The ‘college town gentrification project”:  the big players are U of Maryland, U of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of the Arts on the west side and Johns Hopkins on the east side (3) and 2) ‘10,000 families in 10 years’ targeting recent immigrants, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered communities, Washingtonians who want lower-priced water views. One tool for these projects is the ‘Vacants to Value’ program initiated by the current administration which aims to sell vacant  property at low cost to new residents  as an invitation into the city. Several  reports from existing residents reveal they are not given equal opportunity to purchase vacant property through this program. The socially engineering project of constructing a new Baltimore is determined to rebuild it with people of a different race and class and de-concentrate the existing fabric of this inner city. In addition the recent report from Baltimore Brew regarding the city’s plan to sell public housing buildings to private developers/managers with no transparency to the public as to the long term plans for these buildings will add to further displacement and likely gentrification. (4) The Housing Department has the right to negotiate on behalf of current and future residents to assure that these units remain affordable yet the public remains uninformed as to these details. Dispersing housing vouchers to current tenants may allow low-income residents to move to areas with better socioeconomic status but it does not guarantee increased income for them to afford the goods and services of these different neighborhoods. In fact the current data shows no consistent patterns of increased employment for low-income residents forced to move when public housing is planned for demolition. (5) The results of these rebuilding and gentrification processes will be important to track to determine correlation between the changing higher income earners in the city, the predicted 28% increase in housing prices in Baltimore, and the income and housing value of displaced and existing lower income residents-the inequality gap. (6)

7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building does not accept food stamps

New 7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building in East Baltimore gentrification does not accept food stamps, dictating who is invited into the community

Gentrification results in a different class and often race of people inhabiting a previously disinvested area. (7) This results in increased taxes, better public infrastructure/services, greater investment in education, recreation (bike lanes, human/dog parks) etc with the consistent effect of displacing existing residents who cannot afford the increased taxes, services, and merchandise in the area.Displacement of local businesses occurs secondary to new residents desiring different products, usually more costly. Does this lead to greater inequality/gap between the rich and the poor? It can if people are unable to afford something they previously afforded (home, taxes, products, services) whether in their current neighborhood or neighborhood of displacement. In the current neighborhood the new higher income residents create a market that drives housing prices up, as well as services and products. For a low-income earner moving into a higher income neighborhood because of displacement they still pay a higher percentage of their income for the housing if more affordable housing is not constructed in the area. If existing residents have increased costs to live but no increased income to support these costs, there is less left over after housing expenses.

These initiatives of the past and current mayors seek to increase higher income earners while little has been done to train the existing workforce to be competent to benefit from the projected new jobs and assure increased income that can afford the increased cost for housing, products, services and taxes. Neither has there been affordable housing planned to accommodate the displaced residents unable to afford the rising cost of housing and property taxes. Many of the neighborhoods targeted for revitalization include communities which have been disinvested and under-resourced in education, health care, nutrition, recreation, libraries and all the other assets that support a thriving and healthy community. The outcomes of such disinvestment over time result in the health disparities-including drug and alcohol addiction, development delays, lead poisoning, high incarceration rates, depression, anxiety- we witness in Baltimore and similar urban cities of low income and color. (8) This default of benefit to the higher income residents continues the status quo of growing health and wealth inequality supported by powerful public-private partnerships.

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East Baltimore expansion of 88 acres anchored by Johns Hopkins University

The struggle for equity in housing rights for communities of low income and color  targeted for the negative impacts of gentrification and greater inequality continues. In Baltimore residents in Middle East organized and challenged Johns Hopkins University, the city government, Annie E. Casey Foundation and other powerful stakeholders for fair market value for their homes, equitable relocation costs, and healthy demolition processes after being targeted for displacement by eminent domain. (9) Residents in Washington DC organized and established cooperative housing when their rental building was threatened for developer buy-out (10) In Brooklyn tenants organized and formed a union to assure they can stay in their rental housing after private landlords threaten them to move and increase rent in a quickly gentrifying area. (11)  In California Oakland is addressing workforce development in the creative arts and San Francisco is assuring residents are not further pushed out by gentrification (12). To address the issue of increasing property taxes which force out existing residents Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburg, and New York have introduced or passed legislation either capping or extending payment for property taxes. (13) Legislation to mandate a set target of affordable housing being built in all new housing developments and a set target of local hires, workforce training for eligibility for employment, and social programs to assure eligibility can be tools to assure more equitable housing and employment which will sustain incomes and prevent displacement. (14) There is  more discussion about how to prevent gentrification once revitalization begins in adjacent neighborhoods and online media has served as a platform for raising greater awareness of this issue. (15) Lastly, anti-displacement strategies have and can include city, regional, and federal-sponsored research and planning to assess potential for current affordable housing stock and likelihood of displacement as a result of revitalization and funding for  prevention strategies. (16)  An example of a plan to prevent displacement secondary to planned revitalization in Somerville, MA was recently released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Somerville  suggesting a need for 9,000 new affordable units to assure no displacement occurs (17). Besides organizing at the community level planning and training upcoming leaders to replace current leadership at the city, state, and federal levels, who ignore and support the negative effects of gentrification and inequality through private:public partnerships, is occurring and remains a critical path toward housing equity (18)

More on ‘Arts to Gentrification’ in Station North Arts and Entertainment District

ARE YOU THERE, LORD BALTIMORE?
IT’S ME, OLIVIA ROBINSON, CITIZEN JOURNALIST

by Olivia Robinson

I am sitting in a folding chair at the New Greenmount West Community Association meeting. The meeting is being held in the basement of the old P.A.L. Center on Guilford. (1) Right now, a member is reporting about the second affordable housing structure to be built in Greenmount West – like the first, this building will be for artists-only. After twenty years the tax credits will run out and then the affordable pricing limits will be removed and market rate prices will be allowed. In general, those at the meeting seem positive about development activity taking place in their neighborhood.

The Greenmount West, Charles North, and Barclay neighborhoods make up the “Station North Arts and Entertainment District,” designated in 2002. This title, mainly propaganda for attracting interest from outside the district, calls attention to a special minority in the area: generations of artists and art students. According to 2010 census data, there are almost an equal number of construction workers living in the area as those working in the arts, and even more people who file under the title “Education Services” (including health care and social services). An “Arts and Entertainment District” creates a promotable image of leisure and culture, while a “Health Care and Social Services District” is simply not sexy. Instead, it points to poverty and services needed, rather than wealth and cultural services rendered.

Our Arts and Entertainment District is a smart marketing tool for attracting people and money to the area – yet it does feel covertly classist and racist. The vast majority of people who recognize themselves as artists in the Arts and Entertainment district are white and often from privilege. Again, according to the 2010 census, 72% of the general
Arts District population are black while 82% of the artists are not. During the meeting when I hear about the second artists-only affordable housing project, I cringe. It’s not overt racism, but it’s not far from it either.

Second on the NGWCA meeting agenda are updates from Senator Catherine Pugh, MICA President Fred Lazarus, and Principal Nathan Burns about the newly finished Baltimore Design School, a magnet high school for design students. C. Pugh and F. Lazarus have been instrumental to the Arts District’s successful momentum. While I am generally wary of development, I believe in their good intentions. BDS now inhabits an old factory that was vacant for 25 years. In Greenmount West, the vacancy rate went down from almost 50% in 2000 to 33% in 2010. It seems that the
development in the area is effectively bringing in live bodies. How our city became so vacant, though, is rooted in ugly, racist property laws and policies of the 20th Century. The rows of boarded up buildings should remind us to be critical about how we ‘develop’ the city and for whom – even with good intentions of the landlords and leaders. (2)

In the 1930’s (and as part of the New Deal), the federal government drew city maps to designate where federal, state, and city funds would go for public services. Middle and upper class, white neighborhoods were seen as “good investments” and outlined in green or blue. African-American neighborhoods were outlined in red, indicating
undesirable neighborhoods that were not worth investment. Private banks also used these maps as guidelines for lending money: green means go, red means no. This practice would come to be known as Red-lining.

Additionally, during the Blockbusting of the 1940’s and 50’s, real estate moguls were able to use the societal racism to make a profit. (3) Such profiteers would cheaply buy homes from white families by scaring them that a black family was moving in. Then they would sell the properties at a higher rate to black families looking to move into those
same neighborhoods. Since the highest paying jobs were held by white people, the city’s tax base began to decrease. Demographics in some neighborhoods inversed. The city continued to lose population for the next 60 years as people who could afford to move to the suburbs, did.

As people left their homes, many were left vacant and rotting. Vacant properties with unpaid taxes slowly became the city’s property. In Greenmount West, about half of the vacant homes are owned by the city and HUD. When there is a critical mass, the city issues an RFP (Request for Proposals) from big development companies, frequently providing enticing tax incentives. In addition to RFPs, a variety of “plans” are created for neighborhoods in Baltimore.

The density of data and plans for property and renewal is overwhelming to digest. The process is not transparent to the uninitiated. I found the most recent Urban Renewal Plans dating back to 1978 with multiple updates since. (4) Vision Plans and Master Plans are more recent creations. The Charles North Vision Plan is a powerpoint presentation. Its creation was a lengthy undertaking, coordinated through one of the many non-profits in the area and then approved by the mayor in 2008. It lays out lovely new spaces full of people. The 2010 census tells us that 65% of the people living in Charles North are African-American. Why then, in the Vision Plan’s illustrations of the future, are 95% of the people of European or Asian descent? Is it part of the Vision Plan to change the demographics of the area? If this is not the plan, it seems incredibly uninformed of the hired planning company to not know, reflect, and include the current makeup of the neighborhood – and not just the demography of the people who own land in the commercial portion of Charles and North. (5)

In contrast to the Charles North Vision Plan, the Greenmount West Vision Plan (and more detailed Master Plan) champions the inclusion of neighborhood renters and homeowners in the development process. It suggests CBAs (6), planned affordable housing, and encouragement of neighborhood association input and approval of plans prior to their execution. Perhaps the Greenmount West area may be able to leverage a more equitable development process and model.

I hang around after the NGWCA meeting. The informal conversation is touching on the large new construction projects. I hear concerns about whether or not the construction jobs were actually going to any local residents. Ultimately, because our current system for investment and development is not community or democratically controlled (7), it
remains to be seen if the good intentions of landlords and people in power who initiate projects are able to integrate the voices and aspirations of those who are already present. Will they grow into enforceable CBAs, environmentally progressive construction, affordable rent, and provisions for rising property taxes – all written into the contracts of growth? (8)

Footnotes
(1) Fifteen years ago I used to volunteer in the afterschool program that the Police Athletic League ran in the building. Friends of mine lived in a row house on Oliver Street around the corner. The houses on either side of theirs were occupied by individuals, families, children. I left Baltimore in 2002 and when I returned for a visit in 2010, the entire block was vacant. One of my friends who had lived there, Flo, died in the Haitian earthquake earlier that year. I remember the boarded up row-homes feeling like a physical manifestation of the sadness and emptiness left in the wake of his death. It seems the entire block of nine vacant homes was sold to TRF (a developer from Philly) for $190K in 2011. The housing market, left to its own devices, fluctuates drastically. The same block was purchased in 1994 for $113K and sold again in 2005 for $315K.

(2) Prior to WWI, the House of Lords was an arm of government made up of “Lords” – men who had received land and the official title of Lord by birth. Lords were born with the presumed wisdom (through inherited culture and education) and responsibility (with their wealth came the sufficient time) of ruling. In this position of power they were expected to benevolently govern while also keeping their class position stable. The eruption of the two World Wars effectively helped speed the dismantling of these assumptions, but certainly not eradicating them.

(3) Morris Goldseker was one such real estate tycoon who made millions in Baltimore during the 1930s to 1960s.

(4) In the past, Urban Renewal Plans have often been re-termed as “Negro Removal Plans” by those living within sites of development.

(5) The Goldseker Foundation (founded by Morris Goldseker) helped to fund the creation of the plan. It also helped fund the Open Walls mural project, a mural program that supported a cadre of international muralists work in Baltimore.

(6) Community Benefits Agreements, including but not limited to ensuring training and jobs for neighborhood residents to find employment within the new construction.

(7) The Housing Commissioner alone ultimately selects the winning proposal from the bids made on RFPs.

(8) Or even better, the creation of Community Land Trusts? A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces and other community assets on behalf of a community. “CLTs” balance the needs of individuals to access land and maintain
security of tenure with a community’s need to maintain affordability, economic diversity and local access to essential services. For more information on Community Land Trusts: http://www.cltnetwork.org/

Essay exhibit at the D Center, Baltimore

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